Accused gunman Russell Eugene Weston Jr. can be forced to take medication to control his illness, a federal judge ruled yesterday. The decision was a victory for federal prosecutors, who hope the treatment will make Weston competent to stand trial in the killings of two Capitol police officers.
U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan delayed enactment of his ruling until Thursday to give defense attorneys time for an appeal. Weston's court-appointed attorneys, A.J. Kramer and L. Barrett Boss, said they will appeal, meaning it could be months before any medication program begins.
Doctors at a federal prison facility in Butner, N.C., where Weston is incarcerated, persuaded Sullivan the medication was needed not only to render Weston able to stand trial but also to reduce the threat he posed to himself and other prisoners.
Weston, who has suffered for years from schizophrenia, has said he stormed the Capitol in July 1998 and killed officers Jacob J. Chestnut and John M. Gibson to save the world from cannibals and deadly disease. A prison psychiatrist estimated it could take at least four months of treatment to bring him to the point where he would be able to understand the charges against him and assist his attorneys, who would likely raise an insanity defense. The doctor, Sally C. Johnson, contended there was "a good likelihood" he will respond to medication.
Defense attorneys argued that forcing Weston to take medication violates his constitutional rights to liberty, free expression and a fair trial. They questioned the ethics of forcing Weston to take medicine so that he could stand trial and face a possible death penalty. But Sullivan found the prison plan to be "well reasoned and supported by compelling evidence." He said it was premature to discuss capital punishment and vowed Weston's rights would be "protected at every stage."
The Supreme Court has not definitively addressed the issue of what conditions must be met before a mentally ill defendant can be forced to take medication solely for the purpose of being made competent for trial. But in Riggins v. Nevada, a 1992 case, the Supreme Court ruled that "medically appropriate" involuntary treatment can be justified for safety reasons. In yesterday's opinion, Sullivan tailored his reasoning to reflect that decision.
"The Court has found that the proposed medication is medically appropriate and that, considering less intrusive alternatives, it is essential for the defendant's own safety and the safety of others," Sullivan wrote.
Weston, 42, has been kept in isolation at the Butner facility since May, after Sullivan found he was not yet competent to stand trial on murder and other charges in the officers' deaths. Johnson and others recommended Weston receive medication soon after his arrival at the facility. Weston's opposition triggered a series of administrative hearings at the prison, followed by proceedings in Sullivan's courtroom.
In a letter to Weston in July, prison warden J.R. James said officials believed medication was essential, stating: "The record indicates that you experience a variety of grandiose and paranoid delusions, including a belief that you are able to reverse time and that people who are killed are not really dead. Such delusions have caused you to be dangerous to others, and potentially to yourself, gravely disabled and incompetent for trial."
Weston is accused of rushing past a magnetometer inside the Capitol and opening fire with a .38-caliber revolver, shooting Chestnut point-blank in the head and shooting Gibson in the chest when the officer attempted to stop him. He was shot in the abdomen, arms and legs during an exchange of gunfire and has been in custody ever since. His physical condition has steadily improved.
Johnson testified in court last month that Weston's paranoia has grown more intense recently and that he is "increasingly surly and hostile." He barely spoke to his family when they visited him from their home in Illinois, she said, adding the prison has him on a 24-hour watch.