After 13 days of hearings spread over four months, Secret Service agents, psychologists, psychiatrists, experts, relatives and even a bookstore clerk have opined about would-be assassin John W. Hinckley Jr.’s love life, driving, reading habits and movie reviews.
Now it’s up to a federal judge to decide whether that testimony justifies granting the 56-year-old more privileges from the psychiatric hospital where he has lived since being found not guilty by reason of insanity in the shooting of President Reagan and three other men in 1981.
In closing arguments Thursday in the District’s federal court, attorneys for Hinckley and the government sparred over whether Hinckley remained a danger to himself or others and whether he should be granted longer unsupervised visits to his mother’s home town of Williamsburg.
St. Elizabeths Hospital is asking U.S. District Judge Paul L. Friedman to expand those visits to as long as 24 days. The hospital’s doctors also would like the authority to eventually place Hinckley in Williamsburg on a full-time basis. Friedman said he would probably not rule before April or May.
Hinckley’s attorney, Barry Wm. Levine, urged Friedman to approve the hospital’s proposal because the presidential assailant’s mother is 86.
“Mrs. Hinckley is healthy, but she cannot remain healthy forever,” said Levine, a colorful litigator who quoted Upton Sinclair and littered his statements with such phrases as “supercilious swagger,” “insubstantial quibble,” “misguided stubbornness” and “avalanche of trivia.”
Levine told Friedman that Hinckley was no longer a threat to himself or others and insisted his client had done nothing to raise concerns during previous visits to Williamsburg.
“There is no rational basis to believe he will do anything dangerous,” Levine said.
Federal prosecutors countered that Hinckley remains a risk and should not be granted new privileges because he remains deceptive, has issues with women and has not taken the necessary steps to integrate into the Williamsburg community.
“Mr. Hinckley is in need of more monitoring, not less,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Nihar Mohanty.
Among prosecutors’ specific complaints: Hinckley lied to his treatment providers when he gave positive reviews to two movies he had not seen. And prosecutors remain concerned that Hinckley still shows an interest in Reagan and violence. On two visits to bookstores, Secret Service agents caught him browsing shelves that contained books about the president, his assassination attempt and presidential slayings.
Mohanty added that Hinckley has shown poor judgment in his love life, noting that the presidential assailant invited two women to the same party, showed poor judgment in dating a “floridly psychotic” woman and did not tell some of his doctors that he had gotten engaged to a former patient. (Hinckley’s love life is a recurring topic because he shot Reagan in the delusional hopes of impressing actress Jodie Foster.)
Levine said the hospital’s proposal addresses the government’s concerns. In terms of his client’s dating habits, Levine said it should come as no surprise that Hinckley tends to find women who have issues. “Who is he going to meet at St. Elizabeths?” Levine asked. “Of course those relationships are not perfect.”
Hinckley, wearing a brown sport coat, said nothing during the hearing, though he did whisper several times to Levine and his co-counsel, Michelle Tupper Butler.
Levine later described his client to reporters as “resilient.”