WASHINGTON (AP) – The man who shot President Reagan 22 years ago will get a chance this fall to convince a federal court judge that his mental condition has improved enough that he should be allowed to visit his parents without psychiatric hospital staff supervision, a federal judge ruled Tuesday.

John Hinckley Jr., 48, has been a patient at St. Elizabeths Hospital since he was acquitted by reason of insanity in the shooting of Reagan and three others outside a Washington hotel in March 1981. Hinckley said he shot the president to impress actress Jodie Foster.

U.S. District Court Judge Paul L. Friedman set either Nov. 3 or Nov. 17 for the start of a three- to four-day hearing on whether Hinckley should be allowed to have unsupervised visits with his parents away from the hospital. The date will depend on when two government-appointed doctors who have examined Hinckley can testify.

Hinckley lawyer Barry W. Levine argued that Hinckley should be allowed to leave the hospital unsupervised.

“The legal standard is Mr. Hinckley must be released if he is no longer a danger to himself or others,” Levine said in court.

The government has opposed Hinckley’s request.

Hinckley was in the courtroom sitting at the defense table. His parents were also in the courtroom, but U.S. marshals rejected a defense request to allow them to visit with Hinckley after the hearing.

Levine and the Hinckleys declined to comment after the hearing.

Hinckley has been allowed to take supervised day trips from the hospital since a federal appeals court ruling in 1999.

Senior U.S. District Judge June L. Green canceled a hearing on a similar motion three years ago after prosecutors said Hinckley had a “continued interest in violently themed books and music.” St. Elizabeths officials reacted by withdrawing their support for the request.

In the latest motion, Hinckley is seeking 10 unsupervised visits, five of them overnight trips, with his parents at their home in the Williamsburg, Va., area. Such trips are an “appropriate next step” in Hinckley’s treatment, Levine wrote in court filings.

Federal prosecutors objected, citing Hinckley’s “history of deception and violence.” They argued in their filings that Hinckley at one point had 57 pictures of Foster in his room, wrote to serial killer Ted Bundy before Bundy’s execution in 1989, and had praised Adolf Hitler and mass murderer Charles Manson.

St. Elizabeths officials say Hinckley should be granted unsupervised trips. They recommend he first have two unsupervised day visits with his parents in the Washington area. If they go well, then he should be allowed two unsupervised overnight visits in the area. Only if those four visits are successful should he be allowed to stay overnight at his parents’ home, which is about a three-hour drive from Washington.

“In our opinion, Mr. Hinckley has sufficiently recovered from his mental illness to be granted a limited conditional release without danger to himself or others,” D.C. Mental Health Director Martha B. Knisley said in a letter written on her behalf by Joseph Henneberry, acting associate director for forensic services.

The court filings, unsealed over the objections of Hinckley’s lawyers, offer a glimpse into the more recent life of the would-be Reagan assassin.

Hinckley has gone on several supervised outings with other patients, including trips to restaurants, stores, movies and the beach. He also left the grounds with his parents, accompanied by hospital staff. Whenever he leaves the hospital, which is located a few miles from the White House, the Secret Service is notified.

He has lived in a minimum-security ward since August 2001 and works in the hospital library. His former girlfriend visits him weekly and talks to him almost daily. When she visits, she brings him food so he can feed several cats on the hospital grounds.

Reagan’s daughter, Patti Davis, said the family strongly opposes Hinckley’s latest request.

“I don’t believe for a second that John Hinckley is no longer mentally ill,” Davis wrote recently in Newsweek magazine. “If on Sept. 2 John Hinckley is granted the right to walk off hospital grounds with no supervision, we should all ask some very serious questions about our legal system.”



On the Net:

U.S. District Court: http://www.dcd.uscourts.gov

AP-ES-09-02-03 1051EDT



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