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Reagan assailant seeks unsupervised visits

Lawyer: Hinckley 'least dangerous person on the planet'

John Hinckley Jr. has been hospitalized since 1982.
John Hinckley Jr. has been hospitalized since 1982.

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James Brady
Ronald Wilson Reagan
Crime, Law and Justice

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- An attorney for failed presidential assassin John Hinckley Jr. told a federal judge Monday his client "is probably the least dangerous person on the planet" and should be allowed unsupervised visits with his parents at their Virginia home.

Federal prosecutors are fighting the request, arguing in a pre-hearing memorandum last week that Hinckley, 48, cannot be trusted and would represent a danger to the community.

In his opening statement, Hinckley attorney Barry Levine said his client posed no danger because even if he were allowed unsupervised visits, Secret Service agents would still be allowed to follow him.

Prosecutors said in a court filing that "neither Mr. Hinckley nor the hospital may ask the court to rely on presence of agents of Secret Service to provide security for the community, because there is no factual basis to find that agents provide such security."

Hinckley was 25 when he opened fire outside a Washington hotel on March 30, 1981. One bullet hit President Ronald Reagan in his left lung.

White House press secretary James Brady was shot in the head and survived. Also wounded were Secret Service agent Timothy McCarthy and Washington police officer Thomas Delahanty.

In 1982, a jury found Hinckley not guilty by reason of insanity. He has been institutionalized at St. Elizabeth's Hospital in Washington ever since.

A doctor who has treated Hinckley over the last four years testified Monday that Hinckley's depression and psychosis -- diagnosed in the early 1980s -- are in full remission.

Dr. Sidney Binks, the first of four witnesses, said Hinckley still has a narcissistic personality disorder, although it is improving.

Hinckley, wearing a suit and tie, sat in the courtroom next to his lawyers. At one point he waved to his parents sitting behind him.

Levine said the request for unsupervised visits away from St. Elizabeth's Hospital "is not a bold proposal."

"All the experts have agreed the next step ... is conditional release," Levine said.

"The government resorts to fear itself. ... Irrational fear is not a legal basis to denying the next step in treatment."

In court documents, federal prosecutors said, "No one knows what Mr. Hinckley is thinking. He has boasted that he can fool medical experts, and he continually has been proven deceptive about important matters throughout the years of his hospitalization."

Prosecutor Robert Chapman emphasized in court many of Hinckley's past deceptions, many dating to the 1980s, including the discovery of 57 hidden photos of Jodie Foster in his room in 1987 and his attempts to correspond with mass killers Charles Manson and Ted Bundy in 1986-87.

"It is clear this individual has withheld information" from those treating him, Chapman told the court.

Levine argued that information was not relevant to his current medical condition.

Judge Paul Friedman asked in court "whether the passage of time" has made the information irrelevant or "still relevant but less so than once it was."

Another issue discussed in the hearing was a visit to a Northern Virginia book store in 1999 after which the Secret Service reported he examined books with violent themes.

Binks said the hospital reviewed what happened and concluded Hinckley showed an interest in a wide range of topics and there was nothing to support the claim that he was drawn to any particular type of book.

Binks, when asked if Hinckley has ever expressed remorse for the shootings, said he has done so and "wonders how the families are doing."

Hinckley's lawyers want the court to permit five day trips to the home of his parents, Jack and Jo Ann Hinckley, in Williamsburg, Virginia, which is outside the Washington metropolitan area. They also have requested five overnight visits at their home.

For several years, Hinckley has been allowed to leave the hospital, but he is always accompanied by hospital staff. The defense said those visits have "been a great success."

The hospital argues in favor of a gradual schedule of unsupervised visits, which would begin with day trips and overnight stays with Hinckley's parents in the Washington area, followed later by overnight stays with his parents at their home in Williamsburg.

Prosecutors stressed in their court filing that the court may release Hinckley only if it is satisfied that his parents will provide for the security of the community during the conditional release.

The Justice Department plans to call two prominent psychiatrists to bolster its case against the unsupervised visits. Binks was the first of two experts who have treated Hinckley at the hospital to be called by the defense.

The hearing is expected to last about two days.

CNN's Kevin Bohn contributed to this report.

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