Presidential assailant John Hinckley has a troubling relationship with a former girlfriend that must be resolved before he can be allowed to spend more time away from a psychiatric hospital, a government expert testified Tuesday.
The testimony came on the second day of a hearing to determine whether Hinckley is ready to spend several days at a time away from St. Elizabeths, the Washington mental hospital where he has lived since he tried to assassinate President Reagan in 1981.
Federal prosecutors have argued that Hinckley’s relationship with Leslie DeVeau, the former girlfriend, is “disturbingly unclear.” DeVeau is a former patient at St. Elizabeths who spent eight years at the hospital after she was found innocent by reason of insanity in the killing of her 10-year-old daughter.
Relationship at issue
Hinckley and DeVeau had a romantic relationship while both were at the hospital, but DeVeau broke it off several years after she was released in 1990. Since then, she and Hinckley have remained close friends, but prosecutors say it is unclear whether Hinckley has come to terms with the breakup. The two still talk on the phone twice a day, and she visits him once a week.
Robert Phillips, a forensic psychiatrist, told a federal judge that unresolved questions about the relationship could cause Hinckley psychological stress while he is in the public eye.
“In Mr. Hinckley’s case, relationships have been one of the most important factors that have come to the foreground when he has been most clinically dysfunctional,” Phillips told U.S. District Judge Paul Friedman.
Hinckley has said he shot Reagan to impress actress Jodie Foster. He was acquitted in 1982 by reason of insanity, and his lawyers argue that he no longer poses a danger. He gradually has won permission to leave hospital grounds, first with escorts and then for short unsupervised visits with his parents.
Request: 4 nights out every 2 weeks
In his latest request, Hinckley wants permission to stay four nights at his parents’ home in Williamsburg, Va., every two weeks. Officials at St. Elizabeths suggested instead that Hinckley spend Thanksgiving and Christmas with his family this year before being granted regular visits. Federal prosecutors oppose both plans.
Earlier Tuesday, Hinckley’s sister told a federal judge that she could help supervise her younger brother.
Diane Sims, who has seen her brother only three or four times in the last 23 years, said she could travel from her Dallas home to help her elderly parents care for Hinckley during his visits to their Virginia home three hours south of Washington.
“I feel like I would absolutely be able to assess any situations that may arise and be able to handle them in the correct way,” she said.
A government lawyer questioned whether Sims would be familiar enough with Hinckley’s mental condition to know whether something was going wrong.
A man in limbo Hinckley, 49, sat silently in a federal courtroom during the hearing. Doctors who have treated or evaluated Hinckley said he is mentally fit and ready for longer, unsupervised trips.
In addition to Reagan, Hinckley wounded three other people, including White House spokesman James Brady. He was acquitted in 1982 by reason of insanity. He has been in legal limbo ever since — no longer a criminal defendant but still subject to court supervision.
Greater freedom is an important part of Hinckley’s treatment and should be encouraged if Hinckley responds well, psychiatrists and others told Friedman during the first day of hearing Monday.
A psychiatrist and psychologist who treated or evaluated Hinckley testified that he is a responsible patient, follows rules and has been forthcoming with his therapists.
Attorney: ‘No evidence’ of danger
“There is no evidence that Mr. Hinckley will be dangerous” to others or to himself if allowed to live with his elderly parents for several days a month, lawyer Barry Levine told the judge.
Hinckley wants permission to stay at his parents’ home in Williamsburg, Va., for four nights at a time every two weeks. Officials at St. Elizabeths Hospital suggested instead that Hinckley spend Thanksgiving and Christmas with his family this year before going ahead with regular visits. Federal prosecutors oppose both plans.
He has gradually won permission to leave hospital grounds, first with escorts and then for short, unsupervised visits with his parents. The latest request is the first since Reagan’s death this year from a complication of Alzheimer’s disease.
In the past, his lawyers and supporters have said Hinckley is treated more harshly than other mentally ill defendants because he shot a president. The Reagan family strongly objected when Friedman granted the first unsupervised visits last year.