Attorneys for John W. Hinckley Jr. were in court yesterday in a renewed effort to persuade a federal judge to allow the presidential assailant to make overnight visits to his parents' home in Williamsburg.
In the last 18 months, U.S. District Judge Paul L. Friedman has gradually relaxed restrictions on Hinckley's excursions from St. Elizabeths Hospital, allowing him to take day trips with his parents in the Washington area and subsequently to stay with them overnight in area hotels.
But in November, Friedman rejected a request to let Hinckley travel to Williamsburg, slowing what Hinckley's attorneys had seen as a measured march toward his eventual release from the Southeast Washington psychiatric hospital where he has spent most of the past 24 years.
Hinckley, who turned 50 Sunday, was not in court for yesterday's brief proceeding. Friedman scheduled hearings beginning Sept. 19 on the new request.
When he ruled against Hinckley last fall, Friedman said he did not have enough information about Hinckley's romantic relationship with a former St. Elizabeths patient and how their apparent breakup might affect Hinckley's mental health.
The U.S. attorney's office, which has resisted all efforts to allow Hinckley to leave St. Elizabeths, noted at the time that Hinckley's 1981 assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan was brought on by an obsession with actress Jodie Foster and a desire to impress her. The government feared that another romantic interest might bring about another violent act.
In a motion filed last month, Hinckley's attorneys, Barry Wm. Levine and Adam Proujansky, said the hospital has concluded that although Hinckley was "saddened" by the end of his relationship with the former patient, Leslie deVeau, he has not shown "any psychiatric deterioration."
The two met at the hospital, where Hinckley has been confined since he was found not guilty by reason of insanity in the shooting of Reagan and three other people. DeVeau had been found not guilty by reason of insanity in the death of her 10-year-old daughter and was held at St. Elizabeths until she was judged to no longer be a danger.
After she was released in 1990, deVeau and Hinckley continued their relationship, with regular visits and phone conversations. They split up in 1999 after she said she could not tolerate the scrutiny of being Hinckley's girlfriend, according to testimony from a therapist who interviewed her.
The two remained friends. But after Friedman raised concerns, Hinckley discussed the relationship with his therapists and his parents and decided that he and deVeau should end their friendship, Hinckley's attorneys said in their filing. The two have not spoken since January, and the hospital reports that Hinckley "has continued to progress," Levine said in the filing.
"The only issue identified by the Government's experts . . . as a reason not to expand Mr. Hinckley's conditional release privilege has now been fully resolved," Levine said.
Since the November hearing, when Friedman granted Hinckley a series of six area visits with his family, Hinckley has made four such visits, and two more are planned, Levine told the judge yesterday.
Unlike earlier outings from the hospital, his more recent trips have been without hospital chaperons. The Secret Service, however, tracks his whereabouts when he is away from the St. Elizabeths campus.
All of the recent visits have been uneventful, Levine said, an assertion that was not disputed by the U.S. attorney's office or the D.C. attorney general's office, which represents St. Elizabeths.
But the government argued yesterday that it was premature to consider expanding Hinckley's excursions when the series of six overnight visits with his family is not even complete. Friedman agreed, putting off the matter until September.
In the meantime, Hinckley could be allowed additional visits like those he has been permitted to make since November if Friedman agrees to a request by Levine.