Nearly three years after alleged Capitol Police shooter Russell Weston Jr. began a forced regimen of anti-psychotic medication, federal prosecutors said Monday he is not competent to stand trial and they will instead seek to have Weston committed to a mental institution.
Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Ronald Walutes said the decision is based on forensic psychiatrist Sally Johnson’s recent evaluations of Weston.
In testimony Monday before U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan, Johnson asserted Weston, a diagnosed paranoid schizophrenic charged in the July 1998 shootings that killed Capitol Police Officer Jacob Chestnut and Detective John Gibson, has not made progress in recent months, and she described his mental state as “non-restorable.”
“He is not currently competent to stand trial and I can no longer say there is a substantial likelihood his competence will be restored in the foreseeable future,” said Johnson, who monitors Weston at the Federal Correction Institute in Butner, N.C.
Specifically, Johnson pointed to the fact that Weston appears unable to assist in his own defense, a major component of the competency standard he would need to meet to proceed to a criminal trial.
That assessment is in stark comparison to earlier evaluations provided by Johnson stating that Weston’s progress appeared to be on track for a trial in the near future.
In light of Johnson’s newest evaluation, and just days before the court order requiring Weston’s medication is set to expire, federal prosecutors will request a civil commitment hearing in which Weston could be involuntarily confined to a federal mental institution.
Even if Weston is confined, however, it will not prohibit the government from pursuing a criminal case in the future, according to Walutes.
“The government does not intend to dismiss this indictment,” Walutes said, later adding: “Should his condition change in the future … then he would return to the court.”
In a civil commitment hearing, a federal judge could sentence Weston to Butner or a similar facility, where he would likely continue to be medicated. He would also be subject to court review every six to 12 months to determine if he continues to be mentally ill and whether he remains a danger to others, Johnson explained.
In addition, if the court determines that Weston has regained competency at any time, the case could return to federal court.
“People do continue to make progress … sometimes it’s the treatment plus the time,” Johnson said. Weston has been forcibly medicated with anti-psychotic drugs since January 2002.
In the event the court does not forcibly commit Weston — an outcome Johnson called “unlikely” — he would remain in federal custody. “He would be, in essence, back to where he was at the beginning,” Johnson added.
Federal prosecutors are scheduled to submit a proposed court order to Sullivan on Thursday that would allow the case to move to a civil commitment hearing.
Sullivan expressed concern Monday, however, over whether the case would continue in his courtroom or be moved to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina, which often oversees cases regarding commitment to the Butner facility.
Even if the civil proceedings are moved out of the District, Walutes, who expressed preference for holding the civil commitment trial in the North Carolina court, said Sullivan would retain jurisdiction over criminal proceedings in the case.
The hearing is scheduled to continue in Sullivan’s courtroom Friday afternoon.
Capitol Police Chief Terrance Gainer, who attended the Monday hearing along with family members and friends of the slain officers and scores of recruits, acknowledged a civil commitment may not bring closure to the case, which has lasted more than six years.
“It’s excruciatingly slow, the way justice proceeds,” Gainer said. “It’s more waiting with the civil commitment. They’re forever waiting for the possibility … that this guy will get better so he can be tried.”