Hinckley hearing focuses on whether he has interest in books on assassination

John Hinckley was found not guilty by reason of insanity in the 1981 shooting of President Ronald Reagan.

Story highlights

  • A federal court hearing is being held for presidential assailant John Hinckley Jr.
  • The hearing is on whether he should be allowed increased time away from his hospital
  • Another issue is whether he should eventually be released as an out-patient
  • Testimony Monday concerned the books Hinckley perused in a bookstore
A Secret Service agent who secretly was watching presidential assailant John Hinckley Jr. in a Williamsburg, Virginia bookstore said he got "goose bumps" when he realized Hinckley briefly had looked at a shelf of history books that included some dealing with presidential assassination.
Agent Jason Clickner testified Monday at a federal court hearing on whether Hinckley should be allowed increased visitation time away from a government mental hospital and whether he should eventually be released as a permanent out-patient.
Clickner told the court he was assigned to do covert surveillance of Hinckley on October 16, 2011. Hinckley visited a Barnes and Noble bookstore in Williamsburg, where he travels 10 days each month to visit his mother. During those trips, he is allowed a few hours of free time when he is not accompanied by his mother or anyone else. But testimony has shown the Secret Service frequently is watching.
Clinckner said Hinckley became "momentarily fixated" on a specific shelf of books although he did not stop to pick any up to leaf through.
Clickner said it was only after Hinckley had bought some music books in a different section and left the store to attend a movie that the agent went back to look at what had appeared to briefly interest the 56-year-old Hinckley.
The agent found two books dealing with the murder of presidents. One is called "The President and the Assassin," about the assassination of President WIlliam McKinley in 1901. The other volume is titled "Betrayal in Dallas: LBJ, the Pearl Street Mafia, and the Murder of President Kennedy," which deals with the assassination of John F. Kennedy in 1963.
Hinckley was found not guilty by reason of insanity in the 1981 shooting of President Ronald Reagan, his press secretary Jim Brady, Secret Service agent Timothy McCarthy and Washington policeman Thomas Delahanty.
According to the agent, the shelf also carried a book called "Collision Course: Ronald Reagan, the Air Traffic Controllers and the Strike That Changed America." That book and a nearby one about presidential debates have pictures of President Ronald Reagan on the cover.
Hinckley's lawyer, Barry Levine, asked Clickner if there was any danger in Hinckley seeing a book about the air controllers. Clickner replied no but then quickly added when an "attempted assassin" looks at a book with a picture of the man he tried to kill "it's a great concern."
"I had an involuntary response of goose bumps," said Clickner. The agent said he couldn't tell if Hinckley took an interest in any one particular book.
Levine asked how long Hinckley appeared to look at the history books and the agent estimated it lasted about 15 to 20 seconds. Levine questioned how Clickner could tell what Hinckley might have seen on a five-shelf book case and noted there were other volumes nearby on subjects like the 9/11 attacks and a conflict involving Mormon settlers and their neighbors in the 1800s.
A Barnes and Noble clerk also was called to the stand to talk about an episode in late summer or early fall of 2011 when a customer asked whether there were any new books on the Kennedy assassination.
The clerk, Richard Rolfes, said he pointed out the "Betrayal in Dallas" book. The clerk said the customer "didn't seem very excited" about being directed to the book. Rolfes said the man also asked about books on the topic of assassination in general, which Rolfes said he found unusual.
According to Rolfes, on December 5, a store manager mentioned hearing a news report saying John Hinckley shopped at their store and looked at books on presidential assassination. Rolfes, a recent college graduate, said the name was only vaguely familiar to him when he first heard it. He said he looked up Hinckley on the Wikipedia website and said he saw a picture of Hinckley and thought it was the same man he had waited on.
Rolfes was then interviewed by Secret Service agents who showed him more pictures of Hinckley.
Rolfes could not remember exactly what month or day he had assisted the customer or what he was wearing. Rolfes also changed his mind about whether the customer was wearing glasses.
Levine, the lawyer for Hinckley, called Rolfes' testimony "unreliable.
Late last year the subject of what Hinckley looked at in book stores also came up during the federal court hearing. In a surveillance report filed by the Secret Service on July 24, 2011, agents said they saw Hinckley looking at American history and crime books and the shelves contained "several books about President Reagan and his attempted assassination."
Hinckley currently spends 10 days a month visiting his elderly mother in Williamsburg. Doctors at St. Elizabeths, the government mental hospital where Hinckley has spent the past three decades, have asked that his visits be expanded. The first step calls for two visits of 17 days followed by six visits of 24 days. After that the hospital asked for the authority to decide whether the presidential assailant should be released as a permanent outpatient.
The government opposes the hospital's plan and is just beginning to present its case. Hinckley's lawyers maintain he is not dangerous and presented witnesses last year.
In December, U.S. District Court Judge Paul Friedman indicated the authority to decide whether Hinckley ultimately will be released should rest with him as judge, rather than the hospital.
Hinckley sat quietly listening to the court testimony Monday. He was wearing a brown sports coat without a tie. Hinckley usually wears a tie to court.
Levine made a point of explaining to the judge that the U.S. marshals who escort Hinckley from St. Elizabeths to the federal court house and sit with him during the testimony require him to leave his ties at the court. Levine said no one had been able to locate the ties before the hearing began. "No disrespect is meant for the court," said Levine.