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Key Weston Hearing Set for Aug. 15

More than seven years after the killings of two Capitol Police officers, a federal judge will determine next month whether alleged shooter Russell Weston Jr. should be involuntarily committed to a secure hospital facility in lieu of imprisonment.

Weston is scheduled to appear in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina on Aug. 15 for a civil commitment hearing at which federal prosecutors are expected to request that he be indefinitely confined to a mental institution.

Although Weston was indicted in the July 24, 1998, shooting deaths of Capitol Police Officer Jacob Chestnut and Detective John Gibson, he has never been tried for the offenses.

Criminal prosecution against Weston, a diagnosed paranoid schizophrenic, was put on hold indefinitely in November 2004, after a three-year regimen of court-ordered medication failed to render him competent to stand trial.

Weston is currently housed in the Federal Correction Institute in Butner, N.C., where he has lived since 1999, when a federal court determined he was incompetent to stand trial.

At next month’s civil commitment hearing — which has been delayed since April, in part because the federal public defender has sought additional time for an independent mental health examiner to review Weston’s case — Federal Judge Earl Britt could sentence Weston to Butner or a similar facility, where he would likely continue to be medicated with anti-psychotic drugs.

Even if the court rules against forcibly committing Weston — and at least one expert familiar with the case has asserted that such an outcome is not probable — he would remain in federal custody.

During a November hearing in the District Court for the District of Columbia, forensic psychiatrist Sally Johnson, who monitors Weston at Butner and is familiar with the commitment process, said it is “unlikely” the court would not commit Weston.

Even if Weston is sentenced to a mental institution, the government would not be prohibited from pursuing a criminal case in the future, should the court determine that Weston has regained competency.

According to Johnson’s earlier testimony, Weston would be subject to court review every six to 12 months to determine whether his mental status has changed, as well as whether he remains a danger to others.

Although federal law mandates that civil commitment proceedings take place in the district where a defendant is confined, thus requiring Weston’s hearing to take place in the North Carolina courthouse, the District Court for the District of Columbia retains jurisdiction over criminal proceedings in the case.

Capitol Police will mark the anniversary of the deaths of both officers with a wreath laying Friday at the Memorial Door.

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