John W. Hinckley Jr., anxious to make a mark in the world but unwilling to work, studied infamous crimes and knew that "no crime carries as much publicity as the assassination of the president of the United States," a psychiatrist for the prosecution testified yesterday.
"Mr. Hinckley chose that course of action," said Dr. Park Elliott Dietz, testifying at Hinckley's trial on charges that he attempted to assassinate President Reagan.
Hinckley, searching for "easy routes to fame," rejected plans for kidnaping, airline hijackings, a series of murders or shooting himself in front of actress Jodie Foster because he recognized such acts would not attract as much attention as an assassination, Dietz told the jury.
Dietz testified that Hinckley told another government psychiatrist that Arthur Bremer was "going down a few pegs" when he shot former Alabama governor George C. Wallace in 1972 after previously stalking President Nixon.
Hinckley, who had stalked President Jimmy Carter and President Reagan before he finally wounded Reagan, knew the impact of assassinations "not only on the victim and the victim's family but on the world," Dietz testified.
While Hinckley was a college student he borrowed about a dozen books on assassination from the library, reading "RFK Must Die," about the killing of Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, and "Marina and Lee," about Lee Harvey Oswald, the accused assassin of President John F. Kennedy, Dietz testified.
After Hinkley's arrest, law enforcement officials found among his belongings a copy of Bremer's diary, newspaper and magazine articles about the Wallace shooting and a book about the Boston strangler, the psychiatrist told the jury.
Dietz, an assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, told the jury that a defense psychiatrist who interviewed Hinckley commented in his notes that Hinckley "liked the idea of fame without following rules" and "did not want to be an accountant or an insurance salesman."
After Hinckley's failed attempts at a rock music career and at writing, Dietz said, he turned to studying crimes and assassins to satisfy his longstanding "desire to be something special."
"He was interested in easy routes to fame," Dietz testified. "Assassination was one route by which one could easily become famous."
Dietz, 33, part of a team of psychiatrists who interviewed Hinckley for the prosecution, spent more than 12 hours on the witness stand under questioning by chief prosecutor Roger M. Adelman. The government is relying on that psychiatric testimony to support its contention that Hinckley was sane when he fired on Reagan outside the Washington Hilton Hotel a year ago.
In the past several weeks, defense psychiatrists tetified that Hinckley was mentally ill at the time of the shooting and should not be held criminally responsible for his acts. Those experts told the jury that as a result of his mental illness, which the psychiatrists said was a form of schizophrenia, Hinckley could not abide by the law or appreciate that his acts were wrong.
Dietz contradicted the defense diagnosis that Hinckley was legally insane at the time of the shooting, testifying that in his opinion Hinckley has never suffered from schizophrenia, a severe form of mental illness characterized by an extreme break with reality, as well as delusions and deep depression.
In earlier testimony, Dietz told the jury that Hinckley suffered from a mood disturbance and various personality disorders but remained in touch with reality and was in control of his behavior.
Dietz told the jury that Hinckley lied to avoid work and manipulated his family to get money out of them, including creating a "phantom" girlfriend in California to convince his parents he was happy and should remain there.
Dietz described such behavior as "interpersonal exploitiveness." When asked to define that term, Dietz responded, "It has been variously described as con job, ripoff and hustle."
There has been extensive defense testimony during the trial, now in its sixth week, that Hinckley was a lonely, socially isolated young man who withdrew into an "inner world" of violent fantasies.
Dietz agreed that loneliness was a "feature" in Hinckley's life but he added that studies have shown that "loneliness is as common as the common cold in winter."
During his testimony, Dietz told the jury that the movie "Taxi Driver," which Hinckley saw at least 18 times, did not cause Hinckley to shoot Reagan. Dietz said Hinckley selectively imitated features of the movie's main character--Travis Bickle, who stalked a presidential candidate--but never lost his own identity to the character.
Dietz said that when Hinckley took an overdose of pills at his family home in October 1980, he knew the dose was not lethal and did not want to die. He added that Hinckley told a government psychiatrist he was "just messing around" when he photographed himself holding a loaded gun to his head in 1979.
During cross-examination by defense lawyer Vincent J. Fuller, Dietz, who returns to the witness stand today, acknowledged that Hinckley told a court-appointed psychiatrist 48 hours after the shooting that he had been depressed and was "out of control mentally, very confused and didn't know where to go" in the months before the shooting.