A federal prosecutor in Washington today said the man who attempted to assassinate President Ronald Reagan should not be allowed greater freedom from the psychiatric hospital where he is committed because he has repeatedly lied about trips into the community and still poses a danger to public safety.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Sarah Chasson said John Hinckley Jr., deemed insane following the shooting of Reagan in 1981, over the summer inspected books about the former president and presidential assassination.
Hinckley, the prosecutor said at a hearing today in Washington federal district court, went to a book store instead of seeing a movie. He later lied to his doctors about his whereabouts, Chasson told U.S. District Judge Paul Friedman.
Friedman is presiding over a week-long evidentiary hearing to determine whether Hinckley poses a danger to himself or others.
Hinckley has enjoyed incremental freedom from St. Elizabeths Hospital in Southeast Washington. Ultimately, Hinckley wants to live in the community, his lawyer at Dickstein Shapiro, Barry Wm. Levine, said today in court.
Hinckley waved to supporters this morning in a crowded courtroom before taking a seat next to Levine. Hinckley occasionally flipped through court documents. He rarely looked around the courtroom. Levine, a Dickstein partner, said Hinckley’s family members, including his mother, are expected to attend the hearing, which is scheduled to continue into next week.
In his opening statement, Levine described Hinckley as “flawed” and said he has not always been truthful. But Levine insisted that perfection in character is not the standard by which Friedman must assess Hinckley.
Hinckley, despite his transgressions, is not a dangerous person, the lawyer said. “The risk of danger,” he said, “is decidedly low.”
Levine, co-leader of Dickstein's white-collar criminal defense group, argued in support of a proposal from St. Elizabeths that would give Hinckley additional unsupervised time away from the psychiatric hospital. The proposal calls for two visits in his mother’s Williamsburg, Va., hometown of 17 days, followed by six visits of 24 days.
Chasson said Hinckley’s lack of candor means that his psychiatrists likely don’t know what he's really thinking. She described what she called a long history of deception and lies. Levine said the government is unfairly playing into public fear.
Friedman chastised prosecutors at the start of the hearing for the government’s failure to turn over the names of U.S. Secret Service agents who are expected to testify in the coming days about their surveillance of Hinckley during his trips away from the hospital.
Friedman said he had already told prosecutors to provide the names to Hinckley’s lawyers. “Just do it,” the judge said, raising his voice.
It remains unknown whether Hinckley will testify during the hearing. Levine said in recent court papers he is unwilling to allow Hinckley to testify if prosecutors are allowed to question him. Levine said Friedman should be allowed to question Hinckley one-on-one.