Linda Weston, the Philadelphia woman sentenced to life in prison last month for enslaving and torturing disabled adults for years in a Tacony basement, now says she was "railroaded" by her lawyers into pleading guilty, and is accusing her victims of taking money to lie about her.
In a handwritten letter to U.S. District Judge Cynthia M. Rufe, Weston, 56, maintained she was unaware of what was happening when she accepted a plea deal this year that spared her a potential death sentence. She asked the judge's permission to withdraw the plea and to declare herself insane.
"I am not the person they called me in the courtroom," read the letter, filed on the court's docket Thursday. "I am God's child. I'm not evil, and, no, I am not a monster."
Weston, who received only a fourth-grade education and cannot read or write, has drafted previous letters to the judge with the help of fellow inmates. Rufe dismissed a request from Weston to back out of her plea deal in October.
"I did not understand anything that happened in the courtroom," Weston wrote this week. "My attorney made me take the plea. . . . I was told let's get this over with."
Her lawyers, Paul M. George and Patricia A. McKinney, could not be reached for comment Thursday. On Wednesday, they filed a motion to remove themselves from the case.
Both had stood, with their hands on Weston's shoulders, at a hearing in September, when she pleaded guilty to 196 federal counts including murder, kidnapping, sex trafficking, hate crimes, forced labor, and benefits fraud.
At the time, Weston appeared timid, answering Rufe's questions in a childlike voice and often needing coaxing from McKinney and George. She told the judge she was on medication for schizophrenia and depression.
The docile nature she displayed in court stood in stark contrast to the depravity described by prosecutors as they read through the list of her crimes.
For about a decade, she and other members of what prosecutors have dubbed the "Weston family" lured, confined, and controlled their mentally disabled targets, while seeking to make money off them any way they could.
Together, 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 cost of care low, they locked their wards naked in basements, attics, cupboards, and closets. They fed them depressant-spiked beans and ramen. 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, they continued to add victims by snatching them off street corners, proposing romantic relationships, and even forcing their captives to have children together so Weston could file new government benefit claims.
Philadelphia police eventually 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 the officers not to take them away for fear that they would be punished for disobedience.
McKinney, Weston's lawyer, has said that the plea deal that spared her client's life had come after months of negotiation with Justice Department lawyers, who considered Weston's own troubled childhood, marked by physical and sexual abuse. Weston alluded to that past in her letter to Rufe this week.
"I've been used and taken advantage of my whole life," she wrote. "I've been beaten, raped. A lot of people use me to cover up the things that they have done to people."
Yet, she insisted: "I am a great mom, and I won't ever hurt anyone."
Weston's niece Beatrice Weston, one of those rescued from Weston's basement in 2011, begged to differ.
"I walk around with scars. Every day, I just think about her beating me," she said at her aunt's sentencing hearing in November. "She got what she deserved."