Jeremy Roebuck, Philly, September 10, 2015
Linda Weston–the Philadelphia woman charged with enslaving and torturing disabled adults for years in a Tacony basement so she could steal their benefit checks–pleaded guilty Wednesday in a deal that spared her a potential death sentence.
Instead, she agreed to accept a life term plus 80 years after admitting to all 196 federal counts filed against her including charges of murder, kidnapping, sex trafficking, hate crimes, forced labor, and benefits fraud.
Her decision ends years of internal Justice Department debate over whether to seek her execution for a gut-churning series of crimes.
Weston’s lawyers, Patricia McKinney and Paul M. George, said their client was ready to admit to what she had done almost as soon as she and four others were indicted in early 2013.
“Her decision was motivated largely by concern for her children, so there could be some sort of closure for them,” McKinney said.
Yet, those same children were among Weston’s many victims in a decade-long, four-state conspiracy outlined in chilling detail in a plea memorandum filed Wednesday.
She and the other members of what prosecutors have dubbed the “Weston family” lured, confined, and controlled their mentally disabled targets, while seeking to make money off of them in any way they could.
Together, the documents say, the group stole more than $200,000 in Social Security benefits from their captives by pressuring them to sign documents naming Weston their designated payee. They forced others, including Weston’s 17-year-old niece, into prostitution.
To keep the costs of care low, they locked their wards naked in basements, attics, cupboards, and closets. They fed them with depressant-spiked beans and ramen. And when supplies ran low, they forced their victims to eat their own and other people’s waste.
The group shuttled their captives from Philadelphia to Texas, Virginia, Florida, and back again to avoid detection and left in their wake the bodies of those who did not survive malnourishment and beatings with sticks, bats, guns, and hammers.
All the while, Weston admitted Wednesday, they continued to add victims to their menagerie by snatching them off of street corners, proposing romantic relationships, and even forcing their captives to have children together so Weston could file new government benefit claims.
Authorities rescued four of the family’s victims in October 2011 after discovering them emaciated, covered in filth, and chained in an apartment basement in the Tacony section of the city. The captives begged police not to take them away for fear that they would be punished for disobedience.
She told the judge she was on medication for schizophrenia and depression and still had trouble reading and writing after receiving only a fourth-grade education.