Federal prosecutors are urging a judge in Washington to reject expanding the conditional release of John Hinckley Jr., the man who more than 30 years ago attempted to assassinate President Ronald Reagan.
Judge Paul Friedman of U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia will preside over a hearing Nov. 28 to determine whether to allow Hinckley greater freedom, including some trips during which law enforcement officers would not know his whereabouts.
Friedman in July 2009 granted Hinckley twelve visits to his mother’s hometown in addition to allowing him certain periods of unaccompanied time. Earlier this year, the judge extended the current conditional release program, giving Hinckley, who lives at St. Elizabeths Hospital in Southeast Washington, the chance to continue to visit his mother.
The hospital’s lawyers with the D.C. Office of the Attorney General proposed in late July expanding Hinckley’s conditional release.
Hinckley, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia, would be granted two visits of 17 days and six visits of 24 days. The hospital also asked for sole discretion to place Hinckley on convalescent leave after the eight trips.
“The hospital’s proposal for expanded conditions of release is premature and ill-conceived,” assistant U.S. attorneys Sarah Chasson and Colleen Kennedy said in court papers (PDF).
The proposal, prosecutors said, “fails to adequately address the risks presented by Hinckley’s clinical record.” The government contends Hinckley’s record “reveals the persistence of several behaviors that universally have been recognized as risk factors for Hinckley’s future violence.”
Hinckley’s attorney, Barry William Levine, a Dickstein Shapiro partner in Washington, was not immediately reached for comment this morning. Levine has said that Hinckley no longer poses a danger to himself or others.
Prosecutors concede that Hinckley’s mental health is better. But the government maintains that his core psychiatric diagnoses, including narcissism, remain.
A lawyer for St. Elizabeths Hospital, Tonya Sapp, a health and human services division supervisor for the D.C. Office of the Attorney General, declined to comment this morning.
The hearing later this month is expected to last at least several days and involve a host of mental health experts.
Prosecutors on Tuesday said in court papers that the government should be allowed to cross-examine Hinckley if he testifies at the hearing. Hinckley last testified in September 1989, and prosecutors were allowed to question him.
The St. Elizabeths proposal was filed under seal July 29 in Washington federal district court.
The prosecution’s papers, however, describe the proposed conditional release terms. Among the conditions: Hinckley would be allowed certain trips on which law enforcement officials would not know first where he is going. Prosecutors called the proposition unacceptable.
“The hospital seeks sweeping expansions of Hinckley's release privileges that, if granted, will result in the Hospital having sole discretion over Hinckley's transition to his mother's hometown with little oversight by the Court and no ability by the Secret Service to conduct surveillance,” the government’s legal team said.
Prosecutors said St. Elizabeths Hospital submitted its proposed expansion of Hinckley’s conditional release without first finishing a comprehensive risk assessment.
Chasson and Kennedy, the prosecutors, also contend that hospital staff has failed to maintain contemporaneous notes of its treatment of Hinckley over the past three years. The prosecutors described “obvious gaps” in treatment logs.
“The government also has found only brief mention of any attempt to discuss with Hinckley the thirtieth anniversary of his attempt to assassinate President Reagan, and the notes suggest that these conversations focused on the media coverage,” prosecutors said.
Giving the hospital sole discretion to keep Hinckley’s whereabouts secret, while on release, is inappropriate, the prosecutors said.