AFP/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — The man who tried to assassinate President Ronald Reagan in 1981 appeared Thursday in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., for the second day of oral arguments on allowing him more freedom.
John Hinckley Jr. has been at least temporarily committed to St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Washington for insanity after he attempted to assassinate Reagan outside the Washington Hilton Hotel in 1981. And now those clinicians in charge of his care there are recommending he be allowed to live outside a mental hospital full-time.
For the past two years, Hinckley has spent 17 days of each month at his mother’s home in Williamsburg, Virginia, and his remaining time at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Washington, the result of a gradual increase in time granted outside of the hospital.
It’s the hospital’s recommendation that Hinckley make the full out-patient transition. The government isn’t contesting that, but wants added proposed conditions to the hospital’s requested changes regarding Hinckley’s freedom, which the hospital says are unnecessarily restrictive.
Specific points of contention include rules about Hinckley’s Internet use and accessibility. As it stands now, he may only access some websites. St. Elizabeth forensic clinician administrator Vern Hyde, who was speaking on behalf of the hospital and has treated Hinckley for about nine years, said the website restrictions had impeded Hinckley’s freedom.
For example, it has frustrated his job search because many opportunities in Williamsburg require applicants to apply online, Hyde said, adding that the hospital would have the ability to monitor his online activity and would utilize its power to do so.
Another key point at issue with the government recommendations is that Hinckley’s sole residence be with his mother. Hyde said it would stop Hinckley from forging an independent life. To the notion that should he be caught in a situation where he is marooned in Washington after seeking treatment and unable to make it back to Williamsburg, he should stay at St. Elizabeth’s, Hyde said, “[The hospital] is not a hotel. We don’t have the bed space.”
Hinckley has two volunteer jobs in Williamsburg. He has taken up photography and has joined a social support group for members of the mentally ill community in hopes of making friends. Hyde said Hinckley has successfully made two friends in Williamsburg through the therapeutic group. But certain provisions to his part-time release, like the approval process for outings he is required to get, have hindered his ability to cultivate these relationships, Hyde argued.
But the government said it was concerned by two examples of Hinckley’s existing pre-approved plan changing without notifying his medical supervision team, and provided the basis for their argument to keep the approval network in place.
In one instance, Hinckley had plans with a friend to visit another friend who then became ill, so the two went to a different friend’s house. Hinckley didn’t inform Hyde of the change until the next day – which, contrary to the government’s assessment, Hyde told the court was not a deceitful action, nor was it one to cause any real concern.
The second was a visit to a Barnes & Noble bookstore where Hinckley allegedly stood before a section with, among other books, some on presidential assassination and Ronald Reagan.
At a different point during the proceeding, Hyde noted that Hinckley expressed remorse at the passing of Reagan and his former White House Press Secretary James Brady, whom sustained multiple gunshot wounds at Hinckley’s hand.
Hyde made special mention of the glowing feedback all those involved in Hinckley’s care have said of him, particularly in his personal growth as a caring individual.
The court will resume Friday, hearing arguments from the clinicians who will be in charge of Hinckley’s day-to-day mental care should the court decide to allow him to live outside a mental hospital full-time.
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