A Pennsylvania woman has pleaded guilty after being accused of having held disabled adults and children in captivity in order to collect their benefit checks.
Linda Weston, 55, pleaded guilty Wednesday to a long list of charges that included murder, kidnapping and sex trafficking, WPVI News reports.
U.S. District Judge Cynthia M. Rufe accepted the plea and signaled she will likely accept the sentence included in the plea deal when she sentences Weston at a formal hearing on Nov. 5.
“This is a sufficient sentence to mete out justice here,” Rufe said at the plea hearing Wednesday, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer.
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Per the terms of the agreement, Weston will accept a life term plus 80 years in federal prison. She will also have to pay restitution and fines.
Weston’s guilty pleas to over 186 federal counts against her ended an internal debate in the U.S. Department of Justice as to whether prosecutors should seek the death penalty in the case.
The woman stood accused of having held captive six disabled adults and four children, two of which died in captivity, according to WPVI.
Prosecutors said Weston and four others lured mentally-handicapped individuals into their care then kept them drugged on sedatives that were mixed into their food. Victims were locked in basements and attics and were beaten and malnourished, prosecutors said.
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Victims were pressured to sign documents naming Weston as designated payee for Social Security benefits, prosecutors said, and Weston and the other defendants forced some into prostitution.
The group, which prosecutors dubbed the “Weston family,” shuttled its victims between Philadelphia, Florida, Texas and Tennessee so as to avoid detection. They left behind the bodies of those that died.
Four were rescued in 2011 after authorities discovered them locked in an apartment basement in Philadelphia.
Weston was indicted in 2013.
Her daughter, Jean McIntosh, and co-defendant Eddie Wright have both pleaded guilty to charges against them for their parts in the crime. Two others have been charged and are awaiting trial, according to WPVI.
U.S. Attorney Richard Barrett told The Inquirer that the decision to offer Weston a plea deal, which spared her a trial in which prosecutors could have sought the death penalty, came after a “very deliberate process” which included consultation with her defense team as well as meetings with U.S. Attorneys General Eric Holder and Loretta Lynch. Barrett said victims’ families were notified of the deal and none objected.
Weston’s attorney, Patricia McKinney, said the deal and the prosecutors’ treatment of the case were justified given the years of physical and sexual abuse her client had suffered earlier in her life.
“Usually people are not born with a '666' on their heads,” McKinney said. “Nothing that Linda Weston did was not also done to her as a child.”
Photo credit: Police photo via The Philadelphia Inquirer