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Posted at 04:32 PM ET, 12/05/2011

John Hinckley’s bookstore visit attracts scrutiny

Lawyers involved in the case of would-be presidential assassin John Hinckley Jr. have covered more than just his love life: They’ve sparred over whether and how Hinckley browsed books about President Reagan and presidential assassinations.

Hinckley, who was supposed to have seen a movie in Williamsburg on a July afternoon, was spotted going into a nearby bookstore by a Secret Service agent.

In her opening statement on Wednesday, Assistant U.S. Attorney Sarah Chasson said Hinckley “entered the Barnes & Noble nearby where he began to browse. He wasn’t in the art section. He wasn’t in the music section. He wasn’t in the fiction section. Mr. Hinckley looked at books about President Reagan and about presidential assassins. He then shuttled back and forth between the bookstore and the movie theater.”

Hinckley later misled his treatment team, telling them that he had seen “Captain America” and even raved about the film, Chasson said.

Barry Wm. Levine, Hinckley’s attorney, countered that prosecutors were “deceptive” in their representation of the visit to Barnes & Noble. He introduced the agent’s report into evidence; it said that Hinckley looked at shelves of books in the American history section. On those shelves were books about Reagan and assassinations and the attempted Reagan assassination, the report said.

But the report did not specify the books he perused. (For obvious reasons, such interest would raise serious questions about Hinckley’s thought process).

The only book Hinckley was observed opening and reading, the report said, was apparently in another part of the store: “The British Invasion: The Music, the Times, the Era.

It should come as no surprise that Hinckley would pick up a book that delved into the influence of British rock music on American culture — he loved John Lennon and the Beatles and was devastated by Lennon’s December 1980 assassination in New York City, just months before he shot and nearly killed President Reagan, wounding three other men, outside the Washington Hilton hotel.

On Monday, the bookstore visit came up again. During a discussion of making documents public to the press, Levine told U.S. District Judge Paul L. Friedman that he worried that press coverage had been unfair, in part, because prosecutors had made an “erroneous statement.”

Levine’s comments were a jab at what he had previously called a “deceptive” comment about the bookstore visit. He asked Friedman to police such statements in the future.

Before Levine could sit down, Chasson leaped to the podium and insisted that she had been accurate in her opening statement.

The judge seemed to side with Levine, noting that the report did not specify that Hinckley paid any particular attention to Reagan or assassination books. The agent only reported that Hinckley looked at shelves that included such books, Friedman said.

But the judge also said he wanted to hear what the Secret Service agents had to say about their surveillance. They may testify this week.

The hearings are delving into a request by St. Elizabeths Hospital to expand Hinckley’s liberty by increasing the days he is allowed to visit his mother in Williamsburg. They would like to expand those 10-day trips to visits lasting up to 24 straight days.

If those trips go well, the hospital is seeking the authority to place Hinckley in the Williamsburg area full-time with his mother. Federal prosecutors are fighting the proposal, saying Hinckley remains dangerous.

Hinckley’s brother and sister are expected to testify Tuesday.

Full disclosure: My book, “Rawhide Down: The Near Assassination of Ronald Reagan,” was also discussed. Twice from the bench, Friedman noted that photographs attached to the Secret Service report revealed that my book was on those Barnes & Noble shelves.

“Mr. Wilber will be pleased to know that one of the photographs included your book,” Friedman joked on Thursday.

Levine quickly interjected: “Although, your honor, on the bottom shelf.”

Studying the photograph again, Friedman nodded.

“On the bottom shelf,” Friedman agreed.

This item has been updated.

By  |  04:32 PM ET, 12/05/2011

Categories:  Del Quentin Wilber, From the Courthouse, The District

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