PHILADELPHIA (AP) – A paroled killer charged with murdering two mentally disabled women in a Social Security scam was assigned a new lawyer Monday with death-penalty experience.
Federal prosecutors may seek the death penalty against Linda Weston, who’s now charged with murder, racketeering and hate crimes.
Weston, 52, appeared briefly in federal court Monday, the same day related state charges were dropped. She has been in custody since October 2011, when a landlord found four bedraggled adults locked in a squalid boiler room and called police.
Federal authorities last week unsealed an indictment that charges Weston, her daughter and three others with confining disabled adults like “zoo animals.” The victims were often drugged, deprived of food and medical care, and forced to use buckets for bathrooms, officials said.
Weston used “cunning, trickery, force and coercion” to get mentally disabled people to designate her as their caretaker, allowing her to illegally collect about $212,000 in Social Security payments over 10 years, authorities charged. In all, authorities allege six disabled adults and four children were held captive in “subhuman” conditions in basements, attics and closets at various times between 2001 and 2011.
Defense lawyer George Yacoubian, who represented Weston for more than a year in state court, calls the federal murder and racketeering charges “inflated.” Local authorities investigated both the 2005 death in Philadelphia and the 2008 death in Virginia, and declined to press charges, he noted.
“I think it’s a reach,” Yacoubian said. “Somebody dying in somebody’s care does not make it a homicide.”
Yacoubian also challenged the racketeering charge, arguing that federal authorities assumed a hierarchy within the group that wasn’t there.
“Certainly, the RICO charges are inflated,” he said. “RICO requires some sort of enterprise where subordinates take orders. … There was no organization.”
Because he does not have federal death-penalty experience, a judge Monday appointed capital lawyer Patricia McKinney to represent Weston on the federal charges. She and several co-defendants are due back in court Thursday for federal detention hearings.
Weston previously served time for the slow starvation death of a man locked in her Philadelphia apartment.
Meanwhile, U.S. Sen. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania urged officials Monday to expand a pilot program designed to prevent criminals from managing another person’s Social Security benefits.
About 5.6 million representative payees _ those who receive benefits on behalf of people who cannot manage the funds themselves _ handle $61 billion in Social Security payments each year for about 7.6 million beneficiaries.
“These beneficiaries need to know their representatives are individuals who can be trusted,” Casey wrote in a letter to Social Security Commissioner Michael Astrue.
(Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)
- The 5 worst things you could do for your roof
- 6 coolest things brewing in Arizona
- The virus that keeps head and neck cancers on the rise
- State Fair ‘Kid Reporter’ has all the angles covered
- 4 important things to know about timeshare maintenance fees
- Signs of delayed car crash injuries
- The truth about sports concussions
- The Alzheimer's epidemic: Facts you need to know
- The season is here, keep your Fantasy Football team strong all season
- 8 TV shows you can't miss this fall
- Football is here: 6 tips to make this your best season ever
- Gameday recipes and beers to match
- 6 reasons the Cardinals are driven to win the Super Bowl
- The Pac-12 football season nears kickoff
- Tips to get ready for a pain-free golf season
- Protect your family with these 7 home security features
- How to train like an Olympic swimmer
- 2016 Olympics: A guide to must-see TV events
- The bride's guide to feeling your best on your wedding day
- Deciding when you need knee surgery
- Celebrating Fourth of July is much cooler in these AZ towns
- Top ten road trip bathrooms in America
- Six things causing a pain in your neck
- 5 things to make your summer move easier
- Three elements of a strong timeshare exit guarantee
- Stretches and exercises for carpal tunnel syndrome
- The best Major League ballparks have their own personality
- Comparing the best regular seasons: The '96 Bulls and '16 Warriors
- 3 Arizona road trips and the vehicles to get you there
- Colon cancer is preventable. Check these signs and symptoms to stay healthy.