Monday, November 8, 2004

A federal judge is considering whether to allow John W. Hinckley Jr. to have unsupervised visits with his family as early as Thanksgiving, now that attorneys and doctors say that former President Ronald Reagan’s would-be assassin does not pose a threat to the public.

U.S. District Court Judge Paul L. Friedman yesterday heard arguments from Hinckley attorney Barry W. Levine and psychiatrists in support of Hinckley traveling from St. Elizabeths Hospital, the mental institution where he has been confined since 1982.

During a hearing, Mr. Levine noted that Hinckley has had several unsupervised trips with his family around the greater metropolitan area, adding that Hinckley never was recognized by other tourists and never violated any of the leave regulations.

“There was not a single, mitigated incident,” psychiatrist Robert Keisling testified. “Mr. Hinckley has proven the court was correct, that Mr. Hinckley presented no danger.”

Mr. Reagan’s family strongly objected last January, after Judge Friedman issued an order allowing Hinckley to occasionally leave St. Elizabeths for one or two days with his parents. Mr. Reagan, who died this year after a long bout with Alzheimer’s disease, was not mentioned during yesterday’s hearing.

Hinckley, 49, wants permission to stay at his parents’ Williamsburg home for four nights at a time every two weeks. Hospital officials instead suggested that he spend Thanksgiving and Christmas with his family this year, before going ahead with regular visits.

Federal prosecutors oppose both plans.

If Judge Friedman grants Hinckley’s request, Hinckley will gain his greatest freedom yet and move another step toward eventual full release.

Yesterday, Sidney Binks, a psychologist who has interviewed Hinckley weekly for more than five years, said he thinks that Hinckley “would be of no risk. … He would not be dangerous. I’m quite confident.”

But under questioning by Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Chapman, who repeatedly asked whether Hinckley is mentally ill, Mr. Binks said Hinckley’s condition “is difficult to categorically diagnose,” adding that Hinckley is “still on medication for mental illness.”

Hinckley has lived at St. Elizabeths since he was acquitted by reason of insanity for shooting Mr. Reagan, presidential press secretary James Brady and two law-enforcement officers in 1981.

Mr. Reagan seriously wounded, and Mr. Brady was permanently disabled. Hinckley said he shot the president to impress actress Jodie Foster.

U.S. attorneys have argued against releases or furloughs for Hinckley, saying he has a “history of deception and violence.” Hinckley has praised Adolf Hitler, and wrote to serial killer Ted Bundy before his execution and to mass murderer Charles Manson.

Testimony yesterday focused on Hinckley’s relationship with Leslie DeVeau, whom he met when she was a mental patient at St. Elizabeths. She was found not guilty by reason of insanity in the 1982 fatal shooting of her 10-year-old daughter, and was released after spending three years at the mental hospital.

Dr. Keisling and Mr. Binks said the relationship was romantic but has changed to friendship because Miss DeVeau did not want her privacy invaded by federal investigators and news reporters.

Mr. Chapman and Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas E. Zeno are examining the relationship because Hinckley had tried to kill the president to impress a woman. Mr. Chapman said that Hinckley’s violent past clearly is linked to his feelings about women.

“I think the relationship with Miss Foster was a totally delusional relationship,” Dr. Keisling said.

The hearing continues today.

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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