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Who Is Russell Weston, Jr.?

The images of Russell Eugene Weston Jr. are stark: A former patient at a mental hospital, a paranoid drifter who distrusted his neighbors and his government, a loner the Secret Service considered a potential threat to the president.

The problems of the 41-year-old Weston were largely private until Friday, when authorities say he walked into the crowded U.S. Capitol and shot two officers to death in a gunfight. Weston and a tourist were injured.

Weston's odd life is now under scrutiny, from every move he made in his mountain ravine home, to the argument he reportedly had a day before the slayings. It was a dispute, his father said, that began after his son killed a dozen cats with a shotgun and ended with him telling Weston to "get out."

His lonely existence also stirs memories of the reclusive Unabomber, Theodore Kaczynski, whose tiny shack was only about 40 miles from Weston's home. Like Kaczynski, Weston lived in a cabin in the Montana woods and had few friends. Unlike Kaczynski however, Weston had electricity.

"I would rather ignore him than talk to him, myself," said Ken Moore, who lives about a quarter-mile from Weston's cabin. "He was different."

Moore, who has lived in this old mining town 18 miles southwest of Helena since 1959, said Weston moved in about three years ago. He knew him as Rusty, a man who was in and out of the area frequently, mostly during the summer.

He also considered him an eccentric: Moore said Weston believed his house was targeted by Moore's television satellite dish and that the government was using it to spy on him.

He said Weston would stand in front of the dish, "waving his arms, talking to it, saying, `Here I am."'

State officials confirmed that Weston was committed to the Montana State Mental Hospital for 53 days in the fall of 1996 for evaluation and treatment after threatening a Helena resident.

Andrew Malcolm, a spokesman for Gov. Marc Racicot, said the involuntary commitment was ordered by a judge who concluded Weston was a danger to himself, or the person he threatened. Details were not disclosed.

Weston was released after a medical team concluded he was no longer a danger, and after consultations with Weston's family in Illinois, Malcolm said.

By then, the Secret Service had already learned of Weston.

Authorities outside his cabin said he was visited during the spring of 1996 after he allegedly wrote a threatening letter targeting federal officials. He showed up on the agency's computer list of people who might be a low-level threat to the president, a federal law enforcement official said.

The Associated Press reports that Weston visited CIA headquarters in July 1996. He told personnel there that he had been cloned at birth, said that President Clinton had been cloned at birth, and claimed Clinton may have played a role in the Kennedy assassination out of anger at Kennedy "for stealing his [Clnton's] girlfriend, Marilyn Monroe."

Before that, Weston's life appeared unremarkable. The New York Times reported Saturday that he had moved away from the southern Illinois town of Valmeyer after it was flooded in 1993. His brushes with the law in Montana, however, stretch back into the 1980s and he had lived in the area around the Montana capital off and on for at least 15 years.

Weston was arrested in 1991 in Helena and charged with selling dangerous drugs, said a state Justice Department official who spoke on condition of anonymity. The charges were later dismissed.

In 1986, Weston sued a woman for allegedly hitting him on the head with her cane three years earlier. That case also was dismissed.

In an interview with The Miami Herald, Russell Weston Sr., 66, said his son survived on federal disability benefits and had not worked since the mid-1980s.

The elder Weston also said his son recently wrote a federal agency, he was unsure which, to complain that the government had planted land mines on his Montana property. A government official wrote back to say there was no evidence to support the claim.

The murder of a federal law enforcement officer is one of about 60 federal crimes that carry a potential death penalty. The shootings are considered a federal crime both because federal officers died and because the shootings took place on federal property.

If convicted of murder and sentenced to die, the gunman would join Timothy McVeigh, found guilty in the Oklahoma City federal building bombing, and 13 others condemned under the federal death penalty law.

By Amy Beth Hanson