John W. Hinckley Jr. should be granted more freedom from a psychiatric hospital so he can ultimately be released to live with his mother in Williamsburg, an attorney for the presidential assailant told a judge.
“Although he is flawed, he is fundamentally decent,” Barry Wm. Levine said as his client sat quietly at the defense table. “This man is not dangerous. The evidence shows he is not dangerous.”
Levine’s assertion came during opening statements of hearings before U.S. District Judge Paul L. Friedman, who must decide whether to grant a request by St. Elizabeths Hospital to expand Hinckley’s visits to his mother’s home. Hinckley has been held at the hospital since being found not guilty by reason of insanity in the shooting of President Ronald Reagan and three other men in 1981 outside the Washington Hilton hotel.
In recent years, Hinckley has been granted more freedom and has been visiting his mother for up to 10 days unaccompanied by hospital personnel. The graying 56-year-old — who wore a brown-striped tie and brown jacket to the hearing and revealed no emotion during testimony — has even recently obtained a driver’s license.
The hospital is asking to expand Hinckley’s visits to as many as 24 straight days. If those trips go well, doctors are also asking Friedman for the authority to allow Hinckley to live as an outpatient in Williamsburg.
As they have in the past, federal prosecutors are aggressively fighting the expansion of those privileges, arguing that Hinckley remains dangerous and cannot be trusted with the new privileges. They have raised questions about his relationships with women and accused him of being deceptive about them and other matters.
Hinckley shot Reagan outside the hotel in the delusional hopes of impressing the actress Jodie Foster. In the months before the shooting, he lied repeatedly to his parents and his therapist about his activities.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Sarah Chasson said Wednesday that Hinckley misled his doctors about two visits to the movies in recent months. In a July visit to Williamsburg, he told his doctors he had been dropped off by his mother at a theater to see “Captain America” and even gave a glowing review of the film to his treatment team.
In reality, Chasson said, Secret Service agents watched Hinckley talk briefly with a clerk at the box office and then leave. He headed to a bookstore, where he was spotted browsing books about Reagan and presidential assassinations. The Secret Service, which protects presidents, routinely monitors Hinckley’s movements.
Chasson said the episode proved that Hinckley “will do whatever he wants and then not tell the truth about it.” It also revealed flaws in the hospital’s treatment proposal, she said, because it would rely heavily on Hinckley to report his whereabouts and activities.
The hearings are expected to last until Dec. 9, with testimony from Hinckley’s family members, doctors and therapists. Hinckley may be called as a witness by his lawyer, according to court records.
The first witness in the case, Tyler G. Jones, the director of psychiatry at St. Elizabeths, testified that he did not believe Hinckley was dangerous.
Hinckley has been diagnosed with depression and an unspecified psychotic disorder, both of which are in remission. He still suffers from narcissism.
Prosecutors intend to call their own set of experts and, for the first time, agents with the Secret Service who tracked Hinckley’s movements.
In 1982, Hinckley was found not guilty by reason of insanity of 13 charges, including the attempted assassination of the president and assaulting a law enforcement officer. Reagan was badly wounded; White House press secretary James Brady suffered a head wound and is permanently disabled. Secret Service Agent Tim McCarthy and D.C. Police Officer Thomas Delahanty were also wounded. Delahanty retired on full disability.