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.)
- 11 holiday classics for the ultimate movie marathon
- 2016 college football rivalry games you simply can't miss
- New treatment offers hope for migraine sufferers
- 11 stadiums to watch your favorite football team
- Shopping for a TV? Best models for 2016
- The new beer pairing guide for holiday foods
- Avoid this holiday plumbing disaster in your home
- 7 tips to avoid holiday weight gain
- New treatments mean better prostate cancer survival rates
- 5 of the scariest things found in drains
- 6 tips to create the best family movie night
- New bone marrow procedure holds promise for healing pain
- The best places to celebrate Fall in Phoenix
- Infamous athletes who did the most time for their crimes
- Diet, exercise and aspirin: 3 tools to fight colon cancer
- 2016 baseball highlights, bloopers and blunders
- See how CFOs really feel about business in the Valley
- The best television shows on the internet
- 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