John Hinckley leaves U.S. District Court after a hearing in 1987 (Credit: AP)
WASHINGTON (AP) — An attorney for the man who tried to assassinate President Ronald Reagan told a judge Thursday that his client has shown he is not dangerous and should therefore be allowed more time away from a Washington mental hospital.
John Hinckley, who shot and wounded Reagan outside a Washington hotel in 1981, has spent most of the past three decades confined to St. Elizabeths Hospital in Washington. In recent years, however, he has been allowed to visit his mother's home in Williamsburg, Va., for up to 10 days at a time. During a series of hearings that began in November, his lawyer has urged a judge to grant Hinckley longer visits of 17 and 24 days and ultimately allow him to be away from the hospital full time.
On Thursday, a judge heard closing arguments in the hearings, which have taken place sporadically but lasted a total of two weeks. Government lawyers are asking that Hinckley's visits be kept to 10 days for now. Hinckley's attorney, Barry Levine, said his client is ready for longer stretches of freedom.
"Not once during any one of these releases has Mr. Hinckley done anything violent or dangerous," Levine said of the more than a dozen visits Hinckley has made to his mother's home.
A jury found Hinckley to be insane when he shot Reagan in an effort to impress actress Jodie Foster. Doctors say his mental illness has been in remission for years, however, leading a judge to grant Hinckley increasingly longer stretches away from the hospital.
During closing arguments, Levine was critical of the government's arguments to limit Hinckley's visits, saying it was illogical to argue that 10-day visits are safe but 17-day visits are not. He also disputed government evidence that Hinckley continues to be deceptive.
Earlier during the hearings, the government presented evidence from U.S. Secret Service agents trailing Hinckley. The agents said that on one occasion when Hinckley was supposed to be going to the movies, he was at a bookstore looking at shelves that held books about Reagan and the assassination attempt.
Levine said Hinckley neither picked up nor read any of those books.
"Glancing at books does not equate to danger," Levine said.
Levine also called into question the testimony of a bookstore employee who said he believed that Hinckley on another occasion asked him about new books on the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
Levine said the government sent the Secret Service to follow Hinckley and find some transgression on his part only when it was clear there would be hearings about his release. The Secret Service didn't follow him at other times because the government really doesn't believe he is dangerous, Levine said.
However, government prosecutor Nihar Mohanty said in his closing argument that Hinckley needs more monitoring — not less. Hinckley has been deceptive on several occasions with people at the hospital, looked at online photographs of his dentist without her permission and lied about movies he was supposed to see while visiting his mother, Mohanty said.
Mohanty said Hinckley should first be accepted into treatment at an outpatient mental health facility near his mother's home before his visits are extended to 17 days apiece. During the visits Hinckley should also have to wear an ankle bracelet when he is not accompanied by someone such as his mother; that way authorities can ensure they always know where he is, Mohanty said.
U.S. District Court Judge Paul L. Friedman told attorneys not to expect his decision until April or May. Hinckley's 10-day visits will continue during that time.
Speaking after the hearing Levine quoted President Franklin Roosevelt in suggesting his client is not a danger.
"To quote another president, 'There's nothing to fear but fear itself,'" he said.
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