The Russell Weston Case: The Criminal Justice System on Trial

U.S. Attorney Should Forgo Death Penalty to Achieve Justice

Jan 23 2001

Arlington, VA - The National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI) commends The Washington Post for its front-page coverage today of the case of Russell Weston, the man with paranoid schizophrenia who killed two U.S. Capitol police officers in 1998 and now languishes in federal prison, in legal limbo. Weston is incompetent to stand trial. Treatment of his illness with medication potentially will make him well enough not only to be tried and convicted, but also executed, even though he was deeply ill at the time the tragic crime occurred.

In “A Living Hell or a Life Saved? Capitol Shooter’s Untreated Madness Fuels Legal and Ethical Debate,” (01/23/01) Post reporter Anne Hull presents a grim reality that involves complex layers of legal, medical and ethical issues. It is a balanced, masterful piece of reporting, which points, NAMI believes, to the inadequacy of the criminal justice system in handling cases that involve severe mental illness. In the Weston case particularly, the only way that justice will be served is for the U.S. Attorney to agree in advance not to seek the death penalty, before treatment proceeds.

Attached as further background is a copy of the article “Weston Case Raises Legal Questions Over Forced Medication,” by NAMI legal director Ron Honberg, published in NAMI’s Legal Letter in May 2000. In the article, Honberg declared that the respective objectives of the prosecution and the defense in the case—“psychiatric treatment for Mr. Weston and removal from the community—are quite compatible. The obstacles to swift resolution… relate to traditional criminal procedures.”

“Ultimately the answer to the dilemma in this case may lie in the Court taking a more active role in facilitating a speedy resolution to the impasse. One way this could be accomplished would be through the assumption of a more active role by the presiding judge. A pre-trial conference or hearing in his chambers could be arranged to discuss the issues and possible solutions