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Hospital: Let Hinckley Go On Trips

The man who shot President Reagan no longer poses a danger to himself or others, a hospital psychiatrist testified Wednesday, saying John Hinckley Jr. should be allowed to leave hospital grounds for limited, unsupervised trips to see his parents in Virginia.

Paul Montalbano, pretrial chief of forensic services at St. Elizabeths Hospital, said Hinckley is ready to begin the visits under a gradual program with strict conditions to minimize risk.

"I think it is important that the outings be part of a risk reduction strategy," Montalbano said. "I believe that successful visits can actually make him less dangerous."

U.S. District Judge Paul Friedman indicated last week that he is prepared to let Hinckley make the trips with certain restrictions, but he first wanted to hear testimony from officials at St. Elizabeths, where Hinckley has lived for the past 22 years.

Hinckley, 48, has been a patient there since he was acquitted by reason of insanity in the shooting of Reagan and three others outside a Washington hotel in March 1981. Hinckley said he shot the president to impress actress Jodie Foster.

Montalbano testified during the fourth and final day of a hearing on Hinckley's request to make the unsupervised visits.

Hospital officials submitted a letter to Friedman late Tuesday outlining a three-phase plan for Hinckley to make the unsupervised outings. Under the first phase, Hinckley would make two local day visits to see his parents. The second and third phases would allow him to stay overnight, with the third phase visits lasting a few hours longer.

Hinckley's bid to make the visits got a boost last week from testimony by two psychiatrists for the government. They said his request should be approved but with more restrictions than originally proposed.

The psychiatrists agreed Hinckley should be able to see his parents without an escort as long as he remained in the Washington area, security procedures were put in place and his parents agreed to monitor him closely. They also said Hinckley's parents should provide feedback to the medical staff treating him and suggested a board of hospital administrators review each trip.

But Friedman was concerned that he had not heard the hospital staff testify. He said the only word from the hospital came last August in a written response to Hinckley's request for 10 unsupervised visits with his parents at their home near Williamsburg, Va. For five of those, he would like to stay overnight.

The hospital agreed Hinckley should be allowed some unescorted trips, with the first four taking place 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 the government's experts asked him to impose.

Under a 1999 federal appeals court ruling, Hinckley has been able to take supervised day trips off hospital grounds. Since then, he has taken dozens of trips with his parents to restaurants, bowling alleys and stores in the Washington area.

The Reagan family and the government oppose Hinckley's latest request.

By Sam Hananel

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