Psychiatrist: Plan to give Hinckley extra freedoms 'lacks specificity'

John Hinckley, seen here in 2003, has been allowed unsupervised time during visits to his mother.

Story highlights

  • Hearing to determine whether John Hinckley Jr.'s status enters its 10th day
  • Plan to let Hinckley spend time with his mother "lacks specificity," psychiatrist testifies
  • Attorney rebuts testimony on client's symptoms, notes he hasn't been violent
  • Hinckley wounded 4 people, including President Reagan, in 1981 assassination attempt
A plan to allow presidential assailant John Hinckley Jr. to spend more time away from his government mental hospital and eventually to become a permanent outpatient "lacks specificity," a psychiatrist who has closely followed Hinckley's case for over a decade said Tuesday.
Testifying on the 10th day of a federal court hearing over Hinckley's status, Dr. Robert Phillips said, "We are talking about putting someone in a community for extended time who has been institutionalized for 30 years for trying to assassinate the president."
He said the proposal by St. Elizabeths hospital to let Hinckley spend much more time visiting his mother at her home in Williamsburg, Virginia, "is not good enough" because it lacks firm details about what kind of therapy sessions, group sessions and art and music classes Hinckley could attend in Williamsburg.
Phillips said the Virginia mental facility that agreed to provide outpatient programs for Hinckley has not received records from St Elizabeths about Hinckley's condition it needs in order to construct a program for him.
Hinckley, 56, was found not guilty by reason of insanity in the 1981 shootings of President Ronald Reagan, press secretary James Brady, Secret Service Agent Timothy McCarthy and D.C. Police Officer Thomas Delahanty. The four men survived the attack, but Brady was shot in the head and left permanently disabled, and Delahanty's wound forced him to retire shortly afterward.
The psychiatrist, who is acting as an expert medical witness for the government, testified for the second day on Tuesday in proceedings on Hinckley's future freedoms.
Hinckley currently spends 10 days a month visiting his mother in Virginia. Officials at St. Elizabeths want to increase that to two visits of 17 days to be followed by six visits of 24 days. St. Elizabeths is seeking authority to then decide whether Hinckley can be released as a permanent outpatient.
During the 10 days of hearings, various experts have said Hinckley's most severe illnesses -- major depressive disorder and an unspecified psychotic disorder -- are in full remission. However, Phillips said he does not agree Hinckley's depression is in full remission and says he displays some symptoms, including sullen behavior and weight gain. Phillips said this alone doesn't mean Hinckley shouldn't spend more time in Williamsburg, but he said Hinckley's doctors and case manager need to pay close attention to the problem.
Witnesses have testified Hinckley has been taking Zoloft for several years after complaining of anxiety. Phillips said he thinks the drug is also meant to help with depression.
Hinckley's defense attorney, Barry Levine, took issue with Phillips. Levine ticked off a list of symptoms for major depressive disorder from a psychiatry publication that said a patient would need to have five of those symptoms to be suffering from the disorder. Phillips acknowledged that Hinckley does not appear to have five of the symptoms but persisted in his view that Hinckley is experiencing some level of depression.
Levine noted all of the concerns raised by Phillips -- including Hinckley's relationships with women, the fact that he is sometimes deceptive and his social isolation -- and said that despite those issues, Hinckley had not engaged in violent behavior. Phillips agreed.
Phillips said he did not think St. Elizabeths should be given authority to decide if and when Hinckley is permanently released from the hospital. U.S. District Court Judge Paul Friedman indicated in December that he thinks that decision should rest with him.
The hearing will resume next week. Hinckley has the right to testify, but his lawyer said he does not expect to call him.