Judge Continues Forced Medication for Weston

Posted March 12, 2004 at 3:21pm

Federal Judge Emmett Sullivan approved Thursday the continuation of a six-month extension of the court order requiring alleged Capitol Police shooter Russell Weston Jr. to be forcibly medicated.

The ruling requires Weston, a diagnosed schizophrenic, to continue on anti-psychotic medication until at least May 19. The U.S. Attorney’s Office requested the extension in mid-November, and Sullivan had allowed medication to continue pending last week’s hearing.

“I’m not going to interfere with medication,” said Sullivan, in ruling from the bench. In his decision, the judge recognized testimony from Sally Johnson, a psychiatrist who monitors Weston at the Federal Correction Institute in Butner, N.C., who said it is likely Weston will regain competence and should eventually be able to participate in a trial.

Weston, charged in the July 1998 shootings that killed Capitol Police Officer Jacob Chestnut and Detective John Gibson, has been indicted but never tried.

After Weston was declared incompetent to stand trial in 1999, U.S. attorneys won a court order requiring forced medication. Following a series of appeals, Weston began taking the anti-psychotic drugs in January 2002.

At the Thursday hearing, Johnson testified that Weston’s mental state has “significantly” improved during the past two years, and also noted that he has made advancements since being prescribed a regimen of the drug Clozaril in late October.

“He will continue to respond and his competency will be restored before [May 18],” Johnson said of the extension deadline. If Weston has not reached competency at that time, however, she said it is unlikely he will ever do so.

Federal public defender A.J. Kramer, who represents Weston, had asked for the extension to be denied, citing Weston’s continued delusions.

“His delusions haven’t decreased one bit,” Kramer asserted. The public defender referenced a meeting with his client several days before the trial in which Weston repeated a longtime belief that he is a law enforcement official and that Butner staff, as well as Sullivan, are escaped federal prisoners.

In response, Johnson acknowledged that while Weston continues to maintain his delusions, he is “less invested” in those ideas.

“His ability to consider alternative explanations … has increased,” she stated.

Assistant U.S. Attorney David Goodhand argued that Weston’s progress can also be demonstrated in his day-to-day activities, notably that he has been moved into Butner’s general population and has taken on a job as clerk in an inmate workshop.

“We now have a man who is functioning essentially on his own in Butner,” Goodhand said.

Kramer also cited concerns over Weston’s health condition, noting that he has gained nearly 70 pounds since beginning medication in 2002.

Johnson testified that Weston has not developed health problems related to his weight gain, which is a side effect of the medication, and in fact discusses the issue with her.

“We continue to encourage him to walk more and eat less,” she said.

Even if Weston continues to believe in some of his delusions, however, he could still be found competent to stand trial.

The competency standard requires a defendant to understand the proceedings and to be able to adequately assist in his own defense.

Johnson explained that Weston could continue to believe Sullivan is an escaped criminal, so long as he also understands Sullivan’s role as a judge.

“It’s not the government’s burden to eliminate all delusions,” Sullivan noted. Weston’s competency would be determined at a new competency hearing, which must be held before any criminal trial could take place.

Alternately, if Weston’s mental state does not improve through medication, he could eventually be involuntarily committed on a long-term basis to a secure hospital facility rather than a prison. In such a situation, he would not be found guilty of criminal responsibility for his alleged actions.

Capitol Police Chief Terrance Gainer, who attended the hearing, noted that progress in the case is “slow but steady.”

“We’re going to stay with the families and support them,” Gainer said.

Sullivan has scheduled an early-May status hearing to monitor Weston’s progress on the medication.

During the Thursday hearing, the judge also raised concerns over Weston’s treatment at the D.C. Department of Corrections Correctional Treatment Facility, a medium-security facility where Weston is housed when Sullivan schedules hearings in the District. (Hearings are occasionally held in North Carolina.)

After being escorted by the U.S. Marshals Service from Butner to the District, Weston was apparently left overnight in a CTF holding cell, where he was provided a blanket but forced to sleep in his wheelchair.

Despite instructions and medication provided to CTF, which is managed by the Corrections Corporation of America under a contract with the city, Weston also was not given two doses of his medication.

“We’re at a crossroads in this case and daily medication is important,” Sullivan said after calling representatives of the Corrections Department and CTF into the hearing.

Sullivan earlier criticized the Corrections Department when Weston was not returned to the Butner facility for eight days following a hearing late last year.

“No one seems able to get it right,” Sullivan said.