PHILADELPHIA (AP) — A woman accused of keeping mentally disabled adults captive in the basement of a Philadelphia home and in other states for their disability checks has pleaded guilty to murder and other charges in a deal that will spare her a possible death sentence.
Linda Weston, 55, entered the plea Wednesday to all 196 counts against her that also include kidnapping, racketeering conspiracy and murder in aid of racketeering, hate crimes, sex trafficking and fraud. Two women she held captive later died.
In exchange, federal prosecutors agreed to recommend a life term in prison plus 80 years when she is sentenced Nov. 5. Her lawyers said she has long wanted to plead guilty in the case in the interest of her children.
Weston has been in custody since October 2011, when a landlord found four bedraggled adults locked in a squalid boiler room of a home in the Tacony section of northeast Philadelphia and called police. One man was found chained to a boiler.
Authorities accuse Weston of using "cunning, trickery, force and coercion" to get mentally disabled people to designate her as their caretaker, allowing her to illegally collect about $212,000 in Social Security payments over 10 years.
They say Weston, her daughter and three others confined the victims like "zoo animals," often in the dark, in basements, attics and closets at various times between 2001 and 2011.
The victims, who eventually totaled six disabled adults and four children, were often sedated with drugs in their food and drink, sometimes deprived of food and medical care and forced to use buckets for bathrooms, authorities say.
"When the individuals tried to escape, stole food, or otherwise protested their treatment, Weston and others punished them by slapping, punching, kicking, stabbing, burning and hitting them with closed hands, belts, sticks, bats and hammers or other objects, including the butt of a pistol," prosecutors alleged.
Weston forced two female victims into prostitution to earn more money for the family when they lived in Texas and Florida, authorities alleged.
Defense attorneys Patricia McKinney and Paul George said their client had been ready to plead guilty since a federal indictment was filed in 2013 against her and four others.
"Her decision was motivated largely by concern for her children and so there could be some sort of closure for them," McKinney said, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer.
Two other defendants have pleaded guilty in the case and two others are awaiting trial.