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Reagan assailant can visit aged parents -- for now

From Carol Cratty and Kevin Bohn
CNN Washington Bureau
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Presidential assailant John Hinckley Jr.'s unsupervised visits to his parents' home in Virginia can continue, a federal judge said Monday.

But, U.S. District Judge Paul Friedman cautioned, there may need to be some future changes to the terms of the visits.

Federal prosecutors sought to block the visits, saying Hinckley's aging parents are experiencing health problems and may not be able to provide adequate supervision.

Hinckley, 51, has been confined to St. Elizabeths Hospital in Washington, D.C., since he was found not guilty by reason of insanity of the 1981 shooting of President Ronald Reagan.

Friedman ruled in December that Hinckley could make seven overnight visits to his parents, remaining under their supervision. He required that the parents file reports on the visits. Those seven visits have been completed.

Friedman agreed Monday to let the visits continue but said he could end up deciding to add one of Hinckley's siblings as a custodian on the overnight visits with family.

Hinckley's attorney, Barry Levine, argued that Hinckley should continue to be able to stay with his parents in Williamsburg, Virginia.

"Mr. Hinckley as a matter of mental health is doing exceedingly well," said Levine. "He poses no danger -- I would submit -- to himself or others."

Levine also objected to the possibility of Hinckley's brother or sister formally being added as custodians. Levine said the siblings live out of town and lead busy lives. If they assume supervisory responsibility for their brother, it could result in fewer visits for Hinckley, Levine argued.

Levine said his goal is for Hinckley to move closer to resuming a normal life.

Doctors at St. Elizabeths want Hinckley's trips to continue, Tonya Robinson-Sapp, a representative for the District of Columbia attorney general's mental health section, told the judge.

"The hospital does believe the visits continue to be therapeutic," she said. But she added the hospital now considers Hinckley's mother to be the custodian.

Hinckley's parents are both over 80, and his father reportedly is having health problems.

According to Robinson-Sapp, Hinckley's brother or sister have been present for recent visits and made progress reports to the hospital. But they have not been appointed to a formal role. In addition, a case manager has been located in Williamsburg who also could play a role in Hinckley's supervision.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Zeno expressed concern about Hinckley's supervision.

An October 18 letter from St. Elizabeths suggested that Hinckley's father be removed as a custodian, he said. The hospital also has instructed Hinckley that he is not allowed to be alone with his father.

Zeno said there had been a report of tension between Hinckley and his father.

The prosecutor also cast doubt on the ability of Hinckley's mother to handle the responsibility of his care. Zeno said the mother is recovering from major surgery and is undergoing monthly treatments.

Levine told reporters after the hearing that Mrs. Hinckley had undergone some surgery but is fine. He called the report of tensions between father and son "ridiculous."

A government medical expert is reviewing Hinckley's status and is scheduled to submit a report to the court, lawyers and hospital on October 31. After receiving that report, Friedman said, he will weigh whether to make changes in Hinckley's custodians.

St. Elizabeths Hospital is working on a plan for Hinckley's continued care that is expected to be completed in February.

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vert.hinckley.gi.jpg

Presidential assailant John Hinckley Jr. is shown handcuffed in a police car in this 1981 photo.

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