A federal judge on Monday began envisioning a time when would-be presidential assassin John W. Hinckley Jr. is healthy enough to leave a mental hospital and rejoin society.
Hinckley, who was found not guilty by reason of insanity in the 1981 attempted assassination of President Reagan, is seeking more freedom outside St. Elizabeths Hospital, including unsupervised visits to his parents' Virginia home for two to four weeks at a time.
Hospital officials also wants to loosen restrictions on how far in advance they must alert the Secret Service when they take Hinckley into the community to attend baseball games, the theater and other events.
"Mr. Hinckley is not a danger to himself or others," attorney Barry Levine said.
U.S. District Judge Paul L. Friedman began a weeklong hearing into those requests Monday and said he wants to know how Hinckley's family and doctors see the 51-year-old man's life playing out.
"How do you see things going forward some years?" Friedman asked, noting that if Hinckley keeps improving, at some point hospital officials will "release all supervision."
Hinckley's brother, Scott, responded that he and his parents hope to use the lengthier visits to get John a job or a steady volunteer opportunity. Scott Hinckley said he wants his brother to learn to drive, be more involved in the church and begin re-entering society.
Scott Hinckley, who lives in Dallas, said he would financially support John if he is permanently released from the hospital. But he said the best place for John to live likely would be his parents home in Williamsburg, Va., rather than in Dallas, because "the stigma of the JFK assassination would add more controversy to the situation."
Government attorneys oppose the plan as too unstructured. They say long periods of downtime could be unhealthy for Hinckley and say he needs regular contact with his doctors.
Hinckley, who said he shot Reagan to impress actress Jodie Foster, continues to exhibit poor judgment in his relationships with women and still thinks "about notoriously violent events and people," Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Zeno said.
Under cross-examination, Scott Hinckley said he did not know whether he believed his brother continued to suffer from mental illness.
"That certainly was his diagnosis many years ago," he said. "I'm not a medical doctor. I don't know whether you lose that or you keep that. Nothing I've seen would indicate that condition."
Hinckley shot Reagan, press secretary James Brady, a Secret Service agent and a Washington policeman in March 1981 as the president emerged from a downtown hotel.
Friedman has set aside all week for the hearing and also blocked off time next month if necessary.