Russell E. Weston Jr., the mentally disturbed man accused of killing two U.S. Capitol Police officers in 1998, is improving after 10 months of antipsychotic medication and could be able to stand trial in a year, the psychiatrist who is treating him said yesterday.
Sally Johnson, who oversees Weston's care at a federal prison facility in Butner, N.C., gave the assessment at a court hearing to determine whether Weston should continue on medication. The hearing took place in Butner and video was transmitted to U.S. District Court in Washington, where the victims' families and others watched.
Prosecutors and defense lawyers have battled over Weston's treatment since shortly after his arrest, and the medication began only after prosecutors prevailed in a series of court rulings. Yesterday, Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Ronald L. Walutes Jr. requested that Weston continue taking medication for another year.
Judge Emmet G. Sullivan scheduled another hearing on the matter for Tuesday, this time in Washington.
According to Johnson, Weston has shown steady improvement in communicating with others, overall attentiveness and hygiene. If doctors increase his dosage before switching to a new medication soon, she said, it is "foreseeable" that Weston could gain competency to stand trial within a year.
Johnson said she expects Weston's symptoms "will go into significant remission." Although Weston remains delusional, his condition has improved to the extent that he now understands his defense attorneys, she said.
Weston, 45, a Montana man with a lengthy history of paranoid and schizophrenic behavior, told doctors in his first set of examinations that he came to Washington to save the world from cannibals and that he went to the Capitol to retrieve a top-secret satellite surveillance system that could reverse time and fight disease.
He was arrested at the Capitol on July 24, 1998, shortly after he stormed past a magnetometer and opened fire on Officers Jacob J. Chestnut and John M. Gibson, prosecutors said.
Despite his past diagnoses and continuing symptoms of mental illness, Weston refused medication after his arrest. His attorneys argued that antipsychotic drugs could harm his health and said that medicating Weston was unethical because it could subject him to trial and possible execution. But the courts ultimately ruled that the government's interest in pursuing the person responsible for such a crime outweighs the right of Weston to refuse medication.
Johnson said yesterday that Weston has not resisted taking the medication in the past 10 months.
More than 30 U.S. Capitol Police officers watched the hearing on a television monitor in the courtroom in Washington. U.S. Capitol Police Chief Terrance W. Gainer sat in the front row with relatives of the victims.
"It's been a slow, painful process," Gainer said. "Here we are 4 1/2 years after the murders of Chestnut and Gibson, and the families still have to struggle with that pain. I'm buoyed by the testimony that defendant Weston continues to show improvement and that one of these days, we'll be able to try him."
Bearded and with longer hair than he's had in the past, Weston occasionally nodded in agreement as Johnson answered the lawyers' questions.
Johnson said that since Weston was last before the court in August, he has been walking more, but remains mostly in a wheelchair from wounds he suffered in a shootout with the officers.
She said doctors plan to increase Weston's dosage of Seroquel to 1,000 milligrams before switching to a new drug.
But A.J. Kramer, Weston's public defender, told the judge that Weston is not necessarily becoming more fit for trial. Kramer pointed to a number of recent episodes of delusional behavior, citing Weston's beliefs that Johnson, Judge Sullivan and Walutes, the prosecutor, were other people who had committed crimes.
"What we've heard today, after almost 10 months of medication, is that there's been absolutely no change in his delusional state," Kramer said.
"What we're dealing with here is guesswork," Kramer said.