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Slain Capitol policemen praised as 'American heroes'

Rep. Tom DeLay

Suspect Weston could face death penalty

In this story:

July 26, 1998
Web posted at: 10:28 a.m. EDT (1028 GMT)

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Two slain U.S. Capitol police officers were remembered as "American heroes" Saturday, while the man accused of gunning them down was formally charged with murder.

Russell Eugene Weston Jr., 41, was charged with one count of murdering a federal police officer, with other charges expected.

Federal law enforcement authorities told CNN that prosecutors are "almost certain" to seek the death penalty against Weston, who is in serious condition following Friday afternoon's gun battle with the officers inside the Capitol.

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At a Saturday news conference at D.C. General Hospital, Dr. Paul Oriaifo told reporters that Weston had suffered multiple gunshot wounds to his chest, arm and thigh.

A 24-year-old Virginia woman wounded in the shooting, Angela Dickerson, was discharged Saturday from George Washington University Hospital. She was grazed near her eye by a bullet that then lodged in her shoulder.

DeLay: Slain officers 'stood their ground'

At an emotional news conference Saturday afternoon, House Majority Whip Tom DeLay called the slain policemen -- officer Jacob Chestnut, 58, and Special Agent John Gibson, 42 -- "true heroes, American heroes."

After allegedly first shooting Chestnut in the head with a handgun, Weston then allegedly barged into DeLay's office inside the Capitol, where he and Gibson exchanged gunfire while DeLay and members of his staff took refuge in a bathroom.

Janece Allen

Daughter weeps for her father, Capitol Police officer Jacob Chesnut

(504 K / 11 sec. audio) DeLay

Rep. Tom DeLay, the House majority whip, remembers Capitol Police agent John Gibson

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Slideshow: A Tragedy in Images
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"[Gibson and Chestnut] did their duty. They stood their ground. They protected the Capitol and people's lives, and their sacrifice will not be forgotten," said DeLay, who visited with both men's families.

Speaking of Gibson, DeLay said, "He died so that my staff and the public and I could live."

DeLay pledged that Congress would provide financial help to the officers' families. Both were married. Chestnut had five children; Gibson, three.

"I told both families that I feel responsible for them. We're going to take care of both families. They will need nothing," he said.

House honors officers Monday; funerals Wednesday

On Monday, the House will pass a resolution honoring both officers and allow members to pay tribute, DeLay said. A memorial service is expected to be held Tuesday, although specific arrangements have yet to be announced.

Funerals for Chestnut and Gibson are scheduled for Wednesday. Times and locations have not been announced.

DeLay, a Republican from the Houston area, said he had "no idea" whether Weston's choice of his office had a political motivation. He said it was possible that the suspect simply chose to come through an unlocked door into his office in his haste to escape from police.

Officers began pursuing Weston after he allegedly tried to avoid a metal detector at a Capitol entrance. According to an FBI affidavit, Weston had additional ammunition in his pockets.

DeLay: 'Capitol is safe'

DeLay said the quick response by police showed that Capitol security procedures worked. He said there is a limit to how much additional security could be imposed.

"I think this is the people's house, the people's building, and it should be open to the people and we should not give in to terrorists," he said. "The Washington Capitol is safe. If anybody from Houston wants to come to visit, we'd love to host them. They don't have to worry about it, because we are well protected here."

Flags throughout Washington were flying at half staff Saturday. The Capitol reopened to the public, with only a small part of Friday's shooting scene cordoned off for further investigations. Hundreds of people lined up to visit.

"We must keep it a place where people can freely and proudly walk the halls of our government," said President Clinton Saturday during a visit to Norfolk, Virginia.

"That building is a symbol of our democracy and the embodiment of our nation. We must keep it a place where people can walk the halls of government, and we must never take for granted the values for which it stands or the price of preserving them," Clinton said. He called the shooting "a moment of savagery."

Flowers in memory of the fallen officers were left on the Capitol grounds and in the Rotunda. Phone calls of sorrow and sympathy poured into the Capitol, according to U.S. Capitol Police spokesman Sgt. Dan Nichols.

floor plan
Click here for Capitol's first floor plan and sequence of events  

"We have literally received calls from across the United States from citizens who want to express their concern for the fallen officers and their admiration and respect for the sacrifice [they] made," Nichols said.

Giving the weekly Republican radio address Saturday, an emotional House Speaker Newt Gingrich praised the two slain officers as "genuine heroes" and said the Capitol, the "keystone of freedom," will remain open as a symbol of freedom.

Investigators surround Weston's homes

Weston, a native of Valmeyer, Illinois, had been living in a cabin in Rimini, Montana, a mostly abandoned mining area 18 miles from Helena.

Russell Weston Jr.  

Sheriff Dan Kelley of Monroe County, Illinois, said Weston had been diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic, and he had had six to eight contacts with police in recent years that were related to his mental illness. But he said Weston, who moved back and forth between Montana and Illinois, had no criminal record.

Kelley also said Weston was a loner and "there's no indication" he had ties to any militia or anti-government group.

In Valmeyer, the Rev. Robin Keating, pastor of Zoar United Christian Church, read a statement from the Weston family.

"It is with great sorrow that we speak today -- sorrow for the families that lost their loved ones, sorrow for the children that lost their daddies," he read. "Our apologies to the nation as a whole for the trauma our son has caused. ... To say that we are sorry is very inadequate."

Kelley said Weston's family "has been extremely cooperative" with investigators.

Correspondents Pierre Thomas, Bob Franken, Candy Crowley, Jeff Flock, and Louise Schiavone contributed to this report.

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