Presidential assailant John W. Hinckley Jr. appeared to become fixated on shelves of books that included titles about a presidential assassination and a near assassination while browsing a bookstore last year, two Secret Service agents testified Monday.
The agents testified in hearings that will help determine whether Hinckley, 56, should be granted more freedom from the psychiatric hospital where he has been held since being found not guilty by reason of insanity in the shooting of President Ronald Reagan and three other men in 1981.
St. Elizabeths Hospital is asking U.S. District Judge Paul L. Friedman to grant Hinckley longer visits unaccompanied by hospital personnel to his mother’s home in Williamsburg and to give its doctors the authority to place him there full-time. He visits Williamsburg for 10-day stretches.
The agents trailed Hinckley when he was scheduled to visit a Williamsburg movie theater in July and in October.
During the July outing, Hinckley did not see a movie but instead entered a nearby Barnes & Noble, where he browsed books and music CDs. At one point, Agent Anthony Bordeaux testified, Hinckley appeared to examine a shelf in the American history stacks that included a book that examines the 1981 assassination attempt.
The agent said it was “odd” that Hinckley stared at the shelves so long but didn’t flip through any of the books. Later, the agent testified, Hinckley did pick up a tome on rock music, “The British Invasion: The Music, the Times, the Era.”
Hinckley did not attend the movie he was supposed to see that day but later raved about it to his treatment team.
Secret Service Agent Jason Clickner watched Hinckley enter the same bookstore one October afternoon and become “momentarily fixated” on shelves containing a book about the assassination of President William McKinley and another, “Collision Course,” which is about the air traffic controllers’ strike in 1981 and features Reagan on its cover.
“When I saw that,” the agent said, “I had an involuntary response of goose bumps.”
Federal prosecutors, who are fighting the hospital’s proposal, say Hinckley’s browsing habits reveal that he is a risk because he remains interested in Reagan and presidential assassinations. They also worry that he is deceptive because he lied about having seen “Captain America” and at least one other film.
Hinckley’s attorney, Barry Wm. Levine, has argued that his client is ready for more freedom and is not a threat to himself or others. The hospital’s doctors and Hinckley’s relatives testified last month that the presidential assailant deserves more liberty and is not dangerous. He has questioned whether Hinckley looked at the Reagan and assassination books and pointed out that surveillance reports reveal that agents did not see him look at those books or similar ones on other visits to bookstores.