Hinckley Wants Girlfriend, Psychologist Says in Court

By Henri E. Cauvin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Presidential assailant John W. Hinckley Jr., who is petitioning the court for more freedom, is lonely and longing for a close relationship like the one he had for many years with a former psychiatric patient, a psychologist testified yesterday.

"He wants to have a girlfriend. He wants intimate contact with a female," Paul Montalbano, chief of pretrial services at St. Elizabeths, the Southeast Washington mental hospital, testified yesterday.

The psychologist said such a desire is natural for a man who has ended a long relationship, as Hinckley did this year. Hinckley, 50, cut his ties to Leslie deVeau after the relationship came under scrutiny during hearings to decide whether he was ready for expanded freedoms.

For a time, Hinckley was escorting a young hospital intern to her car and offering to sing to her. But after his doctors became aware of his special interest in the woman, Hinckley was told that he was crossing a line between staff and patient and had to stop, which he did, Montalbano said.

The underlying question at a hearing yesterday appeared to be how Hinckley would handle courtship and respond to rejection out in the world, away from the structure and support of a hospital.

Hinckley would like to eventually be released from St. Elizabeths, where the staff has found his depression and psychotic disorder to be in remission. He has been confined to the hospital in Southeast Washington since 1982, when a federal jury found him not guilty by reason of insanity in the shootings of President Ronald Reagan and three others.

In the meantime, he wants the court's permission to make a series of overnight visits to his parents' residence in Williamsburg, and this week a federal judge is hearing his petition and the government's opposition to it.

Hinckley's interest in women, viewed as natural by the psychologist, is disconcerting to the Justice Department's attorneys, who oppose any expansion of Hinckley's freedoms and who note that it was Hinckley's obsession with actress Jodie Foster that spurred him to open fire on Reagan in 1981.

On the hearing's first day, the questions and answers centered on how Hinckley handled his breakup with deVeau and how he has acted toward women since then. Hinckley met deVeau when both were confined at St. Elizabeths. She was found not guilty by reason of insanity in the 1982 shooting death of her 10-year-old daughter and was released from the hospital eight years later.

Saddened by the breakup, Hinckley did not spiral into depression, Montalbano testified. His longing for a new female companion has been obvious to those who treat him, the psychologist said.

The intern was apparently not his only romantic interest. Smitten with a hospital chaplain, he scheduled an appointment with her. But when asked about it by his doctors, Hinckley admitted that the appointment was mostly a chance to see a "pretty lady" and agreed to cancel it, Montalbano said.

Over the past two years, U.S. District Judge Paul L. Friedman has allowed Hinckley to leave St. Elizabeths for excursions in the Washington area, including some with his parents. Initially the family was accompanied by hospital chaperons. But more recently, Friedman has permitted the family to go without such supervision and has allowed overnight visits in the area.

Even as the hospital supervisions have fallen away, the Secret Service has continued to track Hinckley.

During yesterday's hearing, Hinckley's parents sat in the first row of the gallery on the same side of the courtroom as their son, who was wearing a blue jacket, white shirt and red tie.

Seated at a table with his attorneys, Hinckley seemed to follow the testimony intently, rarely focusing his gaze anywhere but the witness stand as Montalbano answered questions from Hinckley attorney Barry Wm. Levine; the government's lawyer, Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas E. Zeno; and Friedman.

Hinckley's parents live in a 2,900-acre gated community in Williamsburg that has golf courses, a pool, a clubhouse and a shopping center, and that is where he would stay during the proposed series of six visits -- the longest of which would last just over a week.

Montalbano said that the process needs to be gradual and must be monitored but that visits with his family have been an important part of his treatment and should continue to be.

He said that, just as many people rely on their partners for support, Hinckley could be well served by the sort of relationship he craves. But Montalbano also said that given the scrutiny such a partner would endure, Hinckley may face a hard road to romance: "Mr. Hinckley remains optimistic, but perhaps naively optimistic."

© 2005 The Washington Post Company