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Reagan shooter seeks more time outside hospital

- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The man who tried to assassinate President Reagan 30 years ago secretly perused books about Reagan and presidential assassinations this year on unsupervised trips outside of the D.C. psychiatric hospital where he now resides.

Prosecutors revealed Wednesday a portion of the concerning activities John Hinckley Jr. has engaged in as they made opening statements in a hearing that could grant Mr. Hinckley additional time outside the hospital.

"Mr. Hinckley has a long history of deceptive and secretive behavior," Assistant U.S. Attorney Sarah Chasson said in opening statements at the District's federal courthouse.

St. Elizabeths Hospital has recommended that Hinckley be allowed additional time away from the facility in order to visit family and begin reacclimating to the outside world.

"This man is not dangerous," said Mr. Hinckley's attorney Barry Wm. Levine.

In 1982, Mr. Hinckley was found not guilty by reason of insanity of shooting Reagan as he left a Washington hotel. In the three decades since, Hinckley has spent most of his time at St. Elizabeths. However, more recently he has been granted additional privileges such as a series of 10-day visits to his aging mother's home in Williamsburg and obtaining a driver's license.

Prosecutors oppose allowing Hinckley any additional time away from the hospital based on his actions on recent trips, which were observed by Secret Service agents, Ms. Chasson said.

On one specific instance in July, Hinckley told his mother and hospital staff he planned to go to see the movie Captain America. Agents observed him talking to a ticket teller at the movie theater box office. After talking to the teller he left the theater and went to a nearby Barnes and Noble bookstore. There he looked at books about Reagan and presidential assassination attempts, Ms. Chasson said.

Dr. Tyler Jones, director of psychiatric services at St. Elizabeths, downplayed the severity of prosecutors' assertions during testimony.

"He stopped in front of a book shelf for a period of time that contained these books. These are not books that he picked up or read," he said.

On at least one other occasion in September, Hinckley again acted like he was going to the theater but instead visited the bookstore. Once back at St. Elizabeths, Hinckley described the movies to hospital staff in such apparent detail that he convinced others to go see them as well, Ms. Chasson said.

She added that Hinckley's behavior "is a big reminder that he is going to do whatever he wants and then not tell the truth about it."

When hospital staff was made aware of Hinckley's deception, it triggered a discussion over Hinckley's privileges and whether they should be reduced or done away with, Dr. Jones said.

"He indicated to me he understood it was a big deal," Dr. Jones said of discussions with Hinckley.

St. Elizabeths Hospital has recommended that Hinckley be granted two 17-day releases followed by six 24-day releases, to allow him better opportunity to hold a job and integrate himself in the community.

"There have been incremental increases in freedom," Mr. Levine said. "There have been many and God knows they've occurred over a long period of time. Over that entire period of time, there has not been a single instance where there has been a single act of violence."

If the longer releases go well, Hinckley could also transition from in-patient to out-patient treatment, testified Dr. Tyler Jones, the director of psychiatric services at St. Elizabeths, at the Wednesday hearing.

"Mr. Hinckley represents a low risk of dangerousness to himself and others," Dr. Jones said.

Hinckley, who has been diagnosed with depression, a psychotic disorder, and narcissistic personality disorder, thumbed through court papers during portions of Wednesday's court proceedings. He was clean-shaven and wore a brown suit jacket over a white shirt and striped tie.

The hearing is expected to continue for several days as U.S. District Judge Paul L. Friedman hears testimony from additional doctors and mental health specialists, as well as Hinckley's family.

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