By Dave Warner
PHILADELPHIA (Reuters) - A Philadelphia woman accused of holding several mentally challenged adults captive in a scheme to steal their disability benefits is fit to stand trial, prosecutors and defense attorneys said on Wednesday.
Given the finding by a psychiatrist that Linda Weston, 51, is competent for trial, Municipal Court Judge Marsha Neifield said a December 19 preliminary hearing in the case will proceed.
Weston is charged with kidnapping, aggravated assault and false imprisonment stemming from the discovery last month of four mentally challenged adults locked in a dark, cramped basement of a Philadelphia apartment building.
Police say the scheme was a way to steal their disability checks.
The finding of competency is pegged to whether Weston understands the charges and can assist her lawyers in her defense.
Following the hearing, Weston's attorney George Yacoubian said the court-appointed psychiatrist also found she is mentally retarded, has psychiatric issues and suffers from paranoia.
During the examination of Weston on November 7 by the psychiatrist, she could not spell the word cat, the lawyer said.
"There was no IQ test, but she is certainly mentally retarded. There is no dispute about that," he said.
Weston previously was convicted of murder in a case involving a man locked in a closet in her apartment in the 1980s. A court document from her 1983 murder trial showed that an expert found she was retarded and suffered from schizophrenia.
Three other people -- Gregory Thomas, 47, of North Philadelphia, Eddie Wright, 50, who police said was homeless, and Jean McIntosh, 32, Weston's daughter -- also are charged in the captives case. McIntosh lived in the building where the victims were found.
Weston, Wright and McIntosh also are charged with the kidnapping and assault of a 19-year-old woman who was kept in a locked closet in another building. That victim is believed to be Weston's niece.
Defense attorneys said Weston has been placed on suicide watch in jail.
(Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst and Greg McCune)