Wednesday, November 22, 2006

A federal judge has denied a request by prosecutors for the siblings of would-be presidential assassin John W. Hinckley Jr. to supervise him during overnight trips from a D.C. mental hospital.

U.S. District Court Judge Paul L. Friedman on Tuesday issued a court order making Hinckley’s mother his sole custodian during trips from St. Elizabeths Hospital. Prosecutors wanted a court order requiring Hinckley’s brother or sister to be present during visits, too.

Hinckley, 51, has been a patient at St. Elizabeths Hospital in Southeast since he was found not guilty by reason of insanity in the 1981 shooting of President Reagan. He said he shot Mr. Reagan to impress actress Jodie Foster.

Attorneys for Hinckley are planning to seek an expansion of the conditions of his release from the hospital. Since last year, he has been allowed to go on occasional overnight visits to his parents’ house in Williamsburg.

But prosecutors raised doubt about whether Hinckley’s parents, who are in their 80s, could supervise him.

In his ruling, Judge Friedman stated that Hinckley’s father is “no longer capable of acting as a responsible party for his son.” The judge cited the father’s “declining health.”

However, he rejected the argument that Hinckley’s brother or sister must be present for the visits.

Judge Friedman wrote that “Mrs. Hinckley is perfectly adequate as the sole responsible party for her son.”

“While the involvement of one or more siblings in recent visits has been a welcome addition … requiring such involvement is not necessary to ensuring the safety of Mr. Hinckley and the public,” the judge wrote.

The ruling rebuts statements made by prosecutors in a Nov. 16 legal pleading.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Thomas Zeno and Sarah Chasson argued that “Mr. Hinckley’s mother is not a reliable reporter” of information about her son’s visits to hospital officials overseeing his treatment.

Earlier memos from the government stated the physical condition of Hinckley’s parents “has deteriorated considerably” and that hospital reports “reveal persistent tension within the Hinckley family stemming from this physical deterioration.”

Hospital officials on Nov. 15 submitted a memo to Judge Friedman saying Hinckley’s mother is “an adequate sole caretaker.”

According to documents filed last week by Hinckley’s attorneys, “all of the experts continue to agree that Mr. Hinckley will not be a danger to himself or others in the context of ongoing conditional releases authorized by this court.”

Hinckley attorney Barry Levine has declined to explain what sorts of additional freedoms he eventually plans to seek for his client. After a hearing last month, he said the new conditions would be “life-changing.”

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