A defiant Frank Weston, the man charged with the brutal 1980 Alexandria slaying of Connie Mellon, was sentenced to life in prison today in Allegheny County Court for a murder he committed here the day after Mellon died.
Less than 10 minutes after Judge Henry R. Smith pronounced sentence, Weston was bundled into an Alexandria police cruiser for the drive to Virginia, where he is to stand trial on the charge of murdering Mellon.
Waving his lawyer away with one hand and clutching a leather-bound Bible in the other, Weston attacked his counsel and the press.
"Nobody ever helped me. Nobody comes to that jailhouse," he said. "They write lies, but I have to serve the time."
Smith, of the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas, imposed sentence almost four years to the day after he found Weston guilty of first-degree murder in the slaying of Robert Walker in a Pittsburgh shoe store.
Delays have plagued the case from the moment Smith reached the verdict in a bench trial. The judge initially refused to sentence Weston, saying that he felt a jury should decide between life and death. In Pennsylvania, first-degree murder carries a minimum sentence of life in prison.
But in December 1983, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court overruled the judge and ordered him to impose a sentence. Law enforcement officials in Pennsylvania and Virginia have been vocal in criticizing the judge for delays in sentencing convicted felons.
On March 24, The Washington Post reported on the frustrations of Connie Mellon's family and the series of delays that had prevented Weston from standing trial for her slaying. Many officials interviewed in both states thought the Mellon case would never come to trial.
"Well, finally we have him," said Alexandria Commonwealth's Attorney John E. Kloch, who was in the Allegheny County courtroom when the sentence was announced. "I just think it's time we had a chance to try our case."
Police in Pittsburgh and Alexandria have said Weston described the Mellon killing in detail to them, and Kloch has said that he will seek the death penalty if Weston is convicted. Kloch, who was in Pittsburgh to help organize the unusually swift extradition of Weston, said that proceedings in the Mellon case could begin as early as Thursday. Weston arrived at the Alexandria jail about 3:30 p.m.
After four years of delays, many familiar with the Weston case were stunned by the speed with which it was finally resolved.
"It has been so astonishing," said Eleanor Dunham, Mellon's sister, who has spent much of the past four years trying to speed up the process. "First, to wait for years, and then to have it happen in two weeks."
"They didn't believe I was serious about taking him out of there," said Georgeanne Cherpes, an extradition investigator for the Allegheny County district attorney, after she told jail officials that Weston would be leaving for good.
Weston has been in the jail, which is under a federal court order to reduce crowding, longer than any other prisoner.
Today, his lawyer, Sally A. Frick, sought to delay sentencing again, saying that recent publicity given to the case in The Washington Post and the local media had caused Judge Smith to act too hastily.
"When the article appeared, the court ordered me in for sentencing without giving me a chance to reply," Frick said in court today. "All of us have been under pressure to resolve the delays in this case."
But, in denying the defense request, Smith said, "I have been living with this case" for the past four years and that it was time for a resolution. "Perhaps the news media gave it additional attention," he said in court, "but the court does not feel it bowed or rendered an opinion merely because of publicity."
Frick said right after the hearing that she would appeal the decision, but refused further comment.
Weston was whisked out of the courthouse and the county so fast that the judge was not even aware of it.
"This is rare -- we don't usually move this quickly," said Michael Dalfonso Jr., who is in charge of extradition for the county. "But it's completely legal. This case has dragged on much too long."
Sources in the Allegheny County district attorney's office said that a decision to drive Weston back to Alexandria was made Monday, the day the extradition order was prepared. Virginia officials apparently were afraid that if they traveled by plane they might be detained at the airport, leaving enough time for another stay to be granted.
Because extradition grants only temporary custody to Virginia, it is not clear which state will have custody of Weston should he be convicted of the Mellon killing.
"That would be for the two governors to figure out," Smith said.
Mellon, who had just moved to Old Town to work for Time-Life Books, was found dead in her house on Oct. 7, 1980. Four days earlier she had been bound, raped, and shot in the head.
The police had no suspects until August 1981, when ballistics tests revealed that the gun used by Weston to kill Walker in Pittsburgh on Oct. 4, 1980, also was used to kill Mellon the previous day.