3 Shrinks Say: Ease Up On Hinckley

John Hinckley Jr. arrives at U.S. District Court on Tuesday, Nov. 18, 2003 in Washington. Hinckley, who tried to assassinate President Ronald Reagan in 1981, is requesting that he be allowed to visit his parents without supervision. Reagan's family and the government oppose the idea.
John Hinckley Jr.'s bid for unsupervised visits with his parents received a boost Wednesday as two psychiatrists testifying for the government said the request from the man who shot President Reagan should be approved, but only under more restrictions than previously proposed.

Psychiatrists Robert Phillips and Raymond Patterson were the only witnesses called by the government as it concluded its presentation in the hearing to decide whether an unescorted Hinckley could leave St. Elizabeths Hospital to visit with his parents.

Both the government and the Reagan family opposes Hinckley's request.

Phillips and Patterson agreed that Hinckley should be able to see his parents without an escort so long as it is a short visit in the Washington area, security procedures are in place, his parents agree to supervise him, both he and his parents provide feedback to the medical staff treating him, and the trip is reviewed by a board of hospital administrators.

Their testimony came a day after a psychiatrist testifying for the defense - Hinckley's former doctor - said Hinckley hasn't shown "any evidence of psychosis in the last 16 years" and should be allowed to visit his parents without supervision.

Dr. Robert Keisling, who treated Hinckley at St. Elizabeths Hospital in 1998 and 1999 before leaving the facility for another position, said he thinks Hinckley would pose no danger to anyone, and appears to be recovering from the mental illness said to be behind the attempt to kill President Reagan.

"The risk of relapse is practically zero," said Keisling. "You don't see people become acutely psychotic in 48 hours."

U.S. District Judge Paul L. Friedman said that before he ruled, he wanted to hear from officials of the hospital that has been Hinckley's home since a jury acquitted him by reason of insanity in the March 1981 shootings of Reagan and three others.

Hospital representatives are scheduled to testify on Nov. 26, when the four-day hearing is expected to conclude.

Friedman said the only word from the hospital came last August in a written response to Hinckley's request for 10 unsupervised visits, five of them overnight, with his parents at their home near Williamsburg, Va.. The hospital agreed that Hinckley should be allowed some unescorted trips, albeit the first four should be in the Washington area.

The judge said he did not know if hospital officials had changed their opinions, nor whether they would agree to the more stringent conditions that Phillips and Patterson asked him to impose.

"I feel a little bit at sea not knowing what the hospital thinks," Friedman said.

Hinckley, 48, who said he shot Reagan to impress actress Jodie Foster, has been in court each day, wearing a suit and tie and sitting quietly with his lawyers. His parents have been in the courtroom daily as well, sitting in the front row of the pews reserved for spectators.

Under a 1999 federal appeals court ruling, Hinckley has been able to take supervised day trips off hospital grounds.

By Jonathan D. Salant