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Prosecutors await decision on death penalty in Tacony dungeon case

The federal trial against Linda Ann Weston and four co-defendants is expected to start next year.

FEDERAL prosecutors in Philadelphia are awaiting a decision by U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder on whether the government should seek the death penalty for Linda Ann Weston.

Weston, 54, is the accused mastermind of a decadelong scheme to kidnap and keep mentally disabled victims hostage - including four disabled adults found malnourished in a locked Tacony dungeon in 2011 - to bilk them of their Social Security benefits.

At a status hearing yesterday, Assistant U.S. Attorney Faithe Moore Taylor told U.S. District Judge Cynthia Rufe that the decision had not been made, but that her office had requested an expedited review.

Weston, her then-boyfriend, another man and her daughter were arrested in October 2011 after police discovered the four mentally disabled victims locked in a squalid, urine-reeking sub-basement of an apartment building on Longshore Avenue in Tacony.

In January 2013, federal authorities indicted the four and added a fifth defendant, a Florida man, charging them with racketeering enterprise, conspiracy to commit a hate crime and kidnapping.

Weston alone was charged with two counts of murder - one for the June 2005 death of Donna Spadea, 59, in an apartment on Glenview Street in Northeast Philadelphia, and the other for the November 2008 death of Maxine Lee, 39, a Philadelphia native, in Norfolk, Va.

Weston had lived with each of the women, who had mental disabilities, and allegedly kept them captive and deprived them of sufficient care and food.

Although local federal prosecutors have said that Weston's case is eligible for the death penalty because of the murder charges, they have not said whether they recommended the death penalty to the U.S. Department of Justice. That decision-making process is confidential.

The trial of Weston and her four co-defendants is expected to begin sometime next year. If it is not a capital case, the trial, with jury selection, could last about four months, Taylor said. If it is a capital case, it is expected to last about six months.

Defense attorney Paul George, who is representing Weston with lead counsel Patricia McKinney, said after the hearing that the defense is asking federal prosecutors not to seek the death penalty.

Prosecutors in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania have sought the death penalty in only a handful of cases in modern memory. The only defendant in a federal case in Philadelphia sentenced to death in recent history was Kaboni Savage, the North Philly drug kingpin who ordered a 2004 rowhouse firebombing that killed four children and two women.