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Doctor's Suggestion for Man Who Shot Reagan Is Criticized

November 27, 2003|From Associated Press

WASHINGTON — The man who shot President Reagan is ready to leave a psychiatric hospital for unsupervised visits with his parents, a hospital psychiatrist said Wednesday, testifying that John Hinckley Jr. no longer posed a danger to himself or others.

But Sarah Brady, wife of Reagan's press secretary, James S. Brady, wrote an emotional letter to U.S. District Judge Paul Friedman urging him to deny Hinckley's request. James Brady was shot in the head during the assassination attempt and has not fully recovered.

"We do fear for our safety," Sarah Brady wrote. "He ruined Jim Brady's life once. We don't want him to do so again -- either physically or emotionally."

She added: "In the past he has lied to and fooled his parents, his doctors and law enforcement."

Friedman indicated during a hearing last week that he was prepared to let Hinckley make the trips with certain restrictions, but he first wanted to hear testimony from officials at Washington's St. Elizabeths Hospital, where Hinckley has been for the last 22 years.

Dr. Paul Montalbano, a senior forensic psychiatrist at St. Elizabeths, said unsupervised visits would aid Hinckley's treatment and should be allowed with strict conditions.

"I believe that successful visits can actually make him less dangerous," Montalbano said.

Late Tuesday, the hospital filed with the court new guidelines for unsupervised visits. They require Hinckley's parents to stay with their son at all times, call the hospital periodically to check in with doctors and make sure he takes his medication and stays away from weapons.

Hinckley and his parents also are prohibited from contacting or speaking with the media, and his parents must return him to the hospital immediately if there are behavior problems.

Hinckley, 48, has been a patient at St. Elizabeths since he was acquitted by reason of insanity in the shootings of Reagan, Brady and two law enforcement officers outside a Washington hotel in March 1981. Hinckley said he shot the president to impress actress Jodie Foster.

Montalbano said the new guidelines are not ordinarily required of a patient considered a low-risk threat, like Hinckley, but would be followed out of caution given his high profile.

The only concern Montalbano expressed was that Hinckley was still "guarded" about sharing his emotions with physicians and often presented himself in an overly positive light. But he said the visits may get Hinckley to open up more.

Hinckley sat quietly near his attorneys during the hearing and did not testify. On cross examination, government attorneys asked about instances in which Hinckley has misled his treating physicians. In 2000, for example, Hinckley did not immediately disclose that his former girlfriend, Leslie deVeau, a former patient at St. Elizabeths, had purchased a biography of Foster. The incident led the hospital to move Hinckley from minimum to medium security for several months.

Under a 1999 federal appeals court ruling, Hinckley has been able to take supervised day trips off hospital grounds. Secret Service officers have kept watch, and that surveillance would continue during the unsupervised outings.

Friedman said closing arguments in the case would be scheduled within two weeks, with a ruling to be issued soon after.

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