A federal appeals court yesterday ruled that accused cop killer Russell Eugene Weston Jr. can be forcibly medicated to stand trial.
“The government has established a sufficient likelihood that antipsychotic medication will restore Weston’s competence while preserving his right to fair trial,” the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled.
The decision upholds a ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Emmet G. Sullivan that Weston must be medicated to have a fair trial. Judge Sullivan has found Weston, a diagnosed schizophrenic, to be mentally incompetent to stand trial.
Federal public defender A.J. Kramer, Weston’s attorney, said the appellate court decision would likely be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. If the high court decides to hear the case, it could hear arguments as early as next spring.
Weston’s attorneys have argued that it is unethical for him to be forcibly medicated to stand trial and possibly face the death penalty. The U.S. attorney general must decide whether the death penalty will be sought, and that decision will not be made until it is certain Weston can stand trial.
Executions have been prohibited under D.C. law since 1992, but the death penalty is permitted under federal law.
The Court of Appeals rejected Weston’s argument that he could be committed for the rest of his life to prevent him from being a danger to society. The court said the government interest to prosecute Weston is especially important because of his attack on federal officers inside the Capitol.
“The civil commitment argument assumes that the government’s essential penological interests lie only in incapacitating dangerous offenders. It ignores the retributive, deterrent, communicative and investigative functions of the criminal justice system, which serve to ensure that offenders receive their just deserts, to make clear that offenses entail consequences, and to discover what happened through the public mechanism of trial,” the court said in its ruling.
“Civil commitment addresses none of these interests. In Weston’s case, civil commitment would be based on his present mental condition, not his culpability for the crimes charged.”
Weston is charged with murder in the shooting deaths of U.S. Capitol Police Officers Jacob J. Chestnut, 58, and John M. Gibson, 42, on July 24, 1998. He said he went to the U.S. Capitol to regain control of a time machine he invented.
He also is accused of attempted murder for shooting and wounding Capitol Police Officer Douglas McMillan during the shootout.
Weston is being held in an isolation unit at the Federal Correctional Institution at Butner, N.C., and doctors have testified that his condition has worsened.
The federal appeals court said medical testimony shows there is a better than 70 percent chance that antipsychotic drugs would not have extreme side effects. The court also said there is a good chance the drugs would restore Weston to competency to assist in his defense.
“The district court acknowledged that ‘it is not certain the medication will restore Weston’s competency,’ but ‘credited the … testimony of the mental health experts is likely,’” the ruling said.