An Oct. 20 Metro article misspelled the name of one of the attorneys for John W. Hinckley Jr., the man who shot President Ronald Reagan in 1981. The lawyer's name is Adam Proujansky. (Published 10/21/04)
Presidential assailant John W. Hinckley Jr. is asking a court to grant him broad new freedoms to leave a Washington psychiatric hospital without staff supervision for several days at a time to visit his elderly parents in Williamsburg.
Hinckley is seeking an unlimited number of four-day visits with his parents. He wants to spend no more than two weeks at a time between those outings at St. Elizabeths Hospital, where he has been confined since being found not guilty by reason of insanity in the 1981 shootings of President Ronald Reagan and three others.
Prosecutors said yesterday that they will oppose the request. U.S. District Judge Paul L. Friedman has scheduled a hearing for Nov. 8 to consider the matter. The hearing, which probably will take several days, is expected to include testimony from St. Elizabeths staff members as well as psychiatrists and other mental health experts hired by prosecutors and by Hinckley's family.
His attorneys said in recently filed court papers that Hinckley is a "model patient" who has earned additional liberties, and they called the visits an important next step as he prepares to be released outright from the hospital one day. Doctors have said that Hinckley's mental illness is in remission.
"Because Mr. Hinckley ultimately seeks to reside on a permanent basis with his parents at their residence at some point in the future, it is important to start this transition and allow Mr. Hinckley to begin to integrate himself into that community," wrote Hinckley's attorneys, Barry Wm. Levine, Jodi Trulove and Adam Prujanski.
Hinckley, 49, was permitted last year to leave the city's mental hospital without staff supervision for the first time. In December, Friedman permitted Hinckley to leave the grounds unescorted for visits in the Washington area with his parents, John and Jo Ann. The Secret Service, which still keeps track of Hinckley, has been given notice of the outings and has monitored them.
Friedman approved the local visits after extensive hearings. He said the visits would not pose a risk to the public or to Hinckley, and he required "detailed logistical planning" to minimize any potential trouble.
But the judge turned down one request made by Hinckley last year: to leave the area for overnight trips at his parents' home. Friedman said that he wanted to see first how Hinckley handled the unsupervised visits in the area.
Hinckley has had six daytime visits and at least one of two scheduled overnight hotel stays with his parents in the Washington area without staff supervision -- and without incident, his attorneys said. Before that, he had had more than 200 shorter, staff-supervised trips to bookstores, movies and restaurants in the Washington area since 1999.
Hinckley's attorneys argue that he has met or exceeded all expectations. They said he has demonstrated that he "posed no danger to himself or others during the conditional release visits."
The U.S. attorney's office said that prosecutors view Hinckley's latest request as far too lenient and risky for the public. Spokesman Channing Phillips said the government will file court papers in the next few weeks.
The D.C. Department of Mental Health is reviewing the issue and has not taken a position, said Tarifah Coaxum, spokeswoman for the D.C. attorney general's office.
Prosecutors earlier opposed the unsupervised local trips, which Friedman ultimately granted. They said that Hinckley has a history of deception and that they believed he was concealing dangerous thoughts and remained a risk.
But the judge, citing mental health experts hired by the U.S. attorney's office, said the psychotic delusions and depression that led Hinckley to violence have been in remission for at least a decade.
Hinckley went to the Washington Hilton on March 30, 1981, with the goal of killing Reagan to impress actress Jodie Foster. Hinckley wounded Reagan, press secretary James S. Brady, Secret Service agent Timothy J. McCarthy and D.C. police officer Thomas K. Delahanty. Brady suffered permanent brain damage.
Many mental health advocates have noted that other, less famous patients with violent pasts have been released much more quickly into the community after successful treatment. Families and friends of Hinckley's victims, however, said that Hinckley should be treated differently because he tried to kill a president. Nancy Reagan and Sarah Brady, wife of James Brady, both expressed disappointment with the judge's decision last year. They could not be reached for comment yesterday.
Secret Service officials declined to comment on the case.
In their request for the four-day out-of-town trips, Hinckley's attorneys asked that they no longer be required to give the U.S. attorney's office notice of Hinckley's trips two weeks before they occur. The prosecutors notify the Secret Service in advance of each trip, but Hinckley's attorneys argue that giving notice so far in advance "has created unwarranted delays" and that three days' notice should be sufficient.
The lawyers also proposed that, in addition to Hinckley's parents, his siblings be allowed to chaperon him on the visits.
In his ruling last year, Friedman ordered that Hinckley and his parents report to the hospital after each unsupervised local trip and that Hinckley's treatment team submit confidential evaluations to the judge and prosecutors. The judge also ordered that Hinckley remain in the sight and company of his parents and take his antipsychotic medication, Risperdal. The judge instructed Hinckley's parents to return him to the hospital immediately if there were signs of danger, escape or mental problems.
As the judge ordered, a hospital review board considered whether Hinckley was ready for overnight local visits. The board agreed in August that he was, and Hinckley and his parents stayed together in adjoining suites at a local hotel Sept. 12 and 13. The Secret Service was present and also alerted the local police department of Hinckley's itinerary. On neither the daytime or overnight visits did anyone in public recognize and approach Hinckley, his attorneys said.