Yacoubian described the finding of competency as a "close call" and said Weston may be reevaluated as the case proceeds.
"I don't think there's going to be any dispute that she has a mental illness," Yacoubian said. "Competency is a living and moving thing - it can always be revisited down the line."
In order to be declared mentally competent, a defendant must understand the role of his or her lawyers, the prosecutors, and the judge. That defendant must also be able to participate in the defense by communicating with lawyers and answering basic questions.
Yacoubian said Weston met those qualifications, but may still need to be examined in order to determine whether she is fit to stand trial.
Weston appears to be mentally retarded, Yacoubian said, and was unable to spell words like cat. She also shows signs of paranoia and is not fully in touch with reality, he said. Asked who the president was, Yacoubian said Weston's answer was "Bush."
Weston shows no signs of "malingering," or feigning mental illness, Yacoubian said.
Weston, a convicted murderer who starved a man to death in a closet 30 years ago, was arrested last month after police discovered four adults locked in a boiler room of a Tacony basement. Also charged in the alleged kidnapping scheme are Weston's boyfriend, Gregory Thomas, 48; her daughter, Jean McIntosh, 32; and Eddie Wright, 50, a Texas street preacher.
The four are scheduled to appear in court next month for a preliminary hearing. They face charges of kidnapping, conspiracy, and related offenses. Weston, McIntosh, and Wright face additional charges of abusing a niece Weston allegedly kidnapped from Philadelphia several years ago.
Authorities have accused the group of preying on mentally disabled adults by keeping them captive, physically torturing them, and starving them, all while collecting their government benefits for their own use. Police believe Weston, Thomas, and Wright moved the alleged victims around the country repeatedly in order to evade law enforcement.
Weston has extensive experience with court-ordered psychiatric examinations. After her arrest in the 1981 starvation death of 25-year-old Bernardo Ramos, her sister's boyfriend, Weston was evaluated at least nine times before trial.
Doctors who evaluated Weston's mental state said she "scored extremely low in intellectual assessment," likened her mental acuity to that of a young child, and said she was "suffering from intrinsic brain damage." She was also diagnosed with schizophrenia.
Prosecutors took issue with the evaluations, saying Weston was organized and grounded enough to run a household that included three younger siblings and her two toddler children.
Weston was convicted of third-degree murder and served about four years in prison. As a condition of her release, she was ordered to take antipsychotic medication for as long as it was prescribed.
Members of Weston's family have described her as intelligent, if disturbed. Authorities have said that Weston targeted mentally vulnerable adults and that her list of victims may be in the dozens.
Weston has been on suicide watch since her arrest, and on Wednesday her lawyers said she had been living in a cell beneath a fluorescent light that is on 24 hours a day. Weston's attorneys said that the light had caused Weston to have trouble sleeping, and that they planned to ask jail officials whether they could have it modified.
Contact staff writer Allison Steele at 215-854-2641 or firstname.lastname@example.org.