Hinckley's hearing ends without ruling

Federal judge hears 4 days of testimony on request to permit unsupervised visits


WASHINGTON - After four days of testimony, a federal hearing to determine whether John W. Hinckley Jr.'s mental condition has improved enough to permit him unsupervised visits with his parents concluded yesterday without a ruling. Witnesses included several mental health experts and Hinckley's mother.

Hinckley, 48, has been confined to a mental hospital in Washington since his acquittal, by reason of insanity, for the shooting of President Ronald Reagan and three others outside a hotel in 1981 and has argued for years that he should be permitted greater freedom. He says his mental health has improved since he tried to kill Reagan to prove his devotion to the actress Jodie Foster.

U.S. District Judge Paul L. Friedman said he would allow for closing arguments in the next couple of weeks and would issue a ruling shortly after.

Hinckley's lawyer, Barry W. Levine, has contended that the trips would be an appropriate extension of his treatment. Levine says Hinckley is no longer a danger to himself or others.

Levine described Hinckley as a patient whose mental illness was in remission.

The government and Reagan's family have opposed Hinckley's request for conditional release, though he has been allowed hundreds of supervised day trips from St. Elizabeths Hospital since 1999.

The Secret Service is charged with monitoring Hinckley on those trips, which have included outings to bookstores, bowling alleys and restaurants. The Secret Service would continue to observe him were he granted the expanded privileges.

Psychiatric experts for both sides agreed that Hinckley's condition had improved over time and that he should be permitted some visits to see his family away from the hospital. But the government urged caution, saying that Hinckley had often deceived those treating him.

"He has had a history of deceptiveness," said Robert Chapman, an assistant U.S. attorney who argued the case for the government.

Friedman released a letter yesterday from Sarah Brady, who became an activist on gun control after her husband, James S. Brady, Reagan's press secretary, was seriously injured in Hinckley's shooting.

"My main concern," she wrote, "is with the certainty that Hinckley is indeed not a danger to himself or anyone else. While I am a great believer in mental illness rehabilitation, it goes without saying that the field of psychology is an inexact science."

She added: "I cannot say that at this juncture I feel confident or even comfortable that he has not, yet again, fooled the doctors and his family."

Testifying last week, Hinckley's mother, Jo Ann, said she believed her son had recovered. "There's no issue of dangerousness with John at all," she said.

Both Hinckley and his father, John Sr., attended the hearing each day, but neither testified.

Officials from St. Elizabeths, where Hinckley has lived for more than 20 years, said the trips should be carried out gradually, with constant reviews by doctors. The hospital's guidelines require Hinckley's parents to be responsible for supervising him at all times during the excursions. They would also be required to check in with his doctors and to report any news media contacts, which would be prohibited.

Hinckley's efforts to win expanded freedom have been thwarted on several occasions. It was disclosed that he had written to serial killer Ted Bundy and that he had sought a nude drawing of Foster. There has also been evidence that Hinckley developed an obsessive interest in a female pharmacist at the hospital in the mid-1990s and that he expressed admiration for serial killer Charles Manson.

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