Hinckley Seeking Longer Furloughs

By Henri E. Cauvin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, April 17, 2007

John W. Hinckley Jr., who shot President Ronald Reagan and three other men in 1981, wants to take another step toward what could be his eventual release from St. Elizabeths, the public psychiatric hospital in the District where he has been held since being found not guilty by reason of insanity.

Hinckley, who has visited his parents in Virginia several times in the past year, is asking a federal judge to allow longer visits of two to four weeks and to permit his brother and sister to join their mother and father as "responsible persons" in their brother's case.

U.S. District Judge Paul L. Friedman began hearing testimony yesterday on whether to give Hinckley expanded freedom, and from the start, it was clear that the judge is also considering the long-range future.

Hinckley is 51, and his mother and father are advancing in age; his father is also in declining health. The judge and the prosecutors who have sought to limit Hinckley's freedom have expressed concern about what will happen once his parents are no longer able to host him on visits away from St. Elizabeths.

The two people most likely to play bigger roles in Hinckley's life are his brother, Scott, and his sister, Diane Hinckley Sims, and yesterday both testified that they were ready to do whatever is needed to help their brother as he is given more liberties.

But both live in Dallas, and they acknowledged that Hinckley would be served best by building a life around his parents' home near Williamsburg, which he has visited a dozen times, according to testimony. The previous visits typically were four-day stays. The Secret Service is notified when visits take place.

"I think he has expressed to me that that would be a good home base for him," Hinckley's sister said of the Williamsburg area.

It is where, after spending most of his adult life in a mental hospital, Hinckley has begun forging connections with a community, and that is important for him and for his family, she said.

Dallas is a much bigger place, Hinckley's brother told the judge. And if Hinckley were to move there, his brother said, he would be shadowed by the assassination of President John F. Kennedy there in 1963.

But Scott Hinckley did not rule out the possibility of taking his brother to Texas if that were the best option.

The petition to give Hinckley more freedom was filed by St. Elizabeths. The U.S. attorney's office, which has security concerns, is challenging the request.

Paul Montalbano, a top psychologist at the hospital, said yesterday that Hinckley is a "profoundly" different person from the man who was committed to St. Elizabeths.

Although still guarded and defensive, Hinckley is far more open now, the psychologist said, and is no longer considered a danger to himself or others.

The hearing is to resume today and is expected to last until at least tomorrow.

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