Following graphic testimony of her 10 years spent locked up and tortured by her alleged
kidnapper, a Philadelphia woman has received a $45 million award by a Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas jury this week. The award is a default judgment given that the defendants never responded to the civil complaint, but it is highly unlikely the victim will ever receive payment.
Tamara Breeden was one of four mentally disabled people discovered in the basement of a home in the Tacony section of Philadelphia in 2011. Five people face 193-count indictment including racketeering, murder in aid of racketeering, hate crimes, sex trafficking, forced labor, theft, fraud, and other crimes. Three of the defendants, including the alleged ringleader, Linda Ann Weston, were also named in the civil suit.
According to the indictment documents, Weston and her associates carried out a racketeering enterprise that targeted victims with mental disabilities as part of a scheme to steal disability payments from the victims and the Social Security system.
As part of the scheme, Weston persuaded each victim to make her the designated recipient of their Social Security disability payments in exchange for the promise of a comfortable place to live. Once appointed as the designated recipient of disability payments, the defendants, subjected the victims to subhuman conditions of captivity.
According to the indictment, the defendants beat the victims; kept them captive in locked closets, basements, and attics; deprived them of adequate food and medical care; and moved them between Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia, and Florida in order to further the scheme and evade law enforcement.
According to the indictment, some of the victims, including Breeden, endured this abuse for years, until October 15, 2011, when Philadelphia Police Department officers rescued them from the sub-basement of an apartment building in the city’s Tacony section.
During testimony on Wednesday, Breeden told jurors that she gave birth to three children while under captivity, and Weston took away all three babies. She was beaten daily with a metal bat, Bredeen said, and told to drink water from the same bucket she used to go to the bathroom. The co-defendants, Gregory Thomas and Eddie Wright, raped her, and Weston prostituted her, Bredeen says. The criminal trial is expected to begin next year.
Along with Weston and her daughter Jean McIntosh, the indictment charges Gregory Thomas, Sr.; Eddie Wright; and Nicklaus Woodard. According to the indictment, the defendants used isolation, intimidation, threats of violence, and violence to control the victims with mental disabilities and each defendant had a role:
- Weston was the leader and organizer of the enterprise that operated from at least the fall of 2001 through October 2011. She enticed all the victims into coming to live with the enterprise and controlled all aspects of their captivity.
- McIntosh was also a leader of the enterprise who acted as her mother’s right-hand woman. She assisted in confining, controlling, disciplining, housing, and transporting the victims.
- Thomas assisted in obtaining, confining, controlling, housing, and transporting the victims. He installed locks on the doors and windows of every residence where the victims were kept to prevent them from escaping.
- Wright assisted in confining, controlling, housing, and transporting the victims.
- Woodard assisted in confining, controlling, and disciplining the victims.
The indictment charges that in confining the victims, the defendants practiced what is described as “abusive control and confinement techniques” in which the defendants:
- Confined the victims to locked basements, rooms, closets, attics, and apartments;
- Sedated the victims by putting drugs in the food and drink served to them by Weston and others, at Weston’s direction;
- Subdued the victims by serving them a low-calorie, high-starch diet consisting exclusively of Ramen noodles, beans, and stew and generally limiting them to, at most, one meal a day;
- Punished the victims 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, when the victims tried to escape, stole food, or otherwise protested their confinement and treatment.
The defendants are charged in four counts of violating the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act. The Shepard-Byrd Act criminalizes certain acts of physical violence causing bodily injury motivated by any person’s actual or perceived disability, race, color, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, gender, or gender identity.
If convicted of all charges, each of the defendants faces a statutory maximum sentence of life in prison with advisory guideline sentencing ranges that involve substantial terms of imprisonment. Weston also faces mandatory restitution in the amount of approximately $212,000, fines, and special assessments.