WASHINGTON – John Hinckley Jr.'s (search) therapist testified Monday that the mental health of the man who tried to assassinate President Reagan (search) is improving, and he should be allowed to visit his parents without supervision.
The government and Reagan's family oppose the idea.
Psychologist Sidney Binks, who has treated Hinckley for more than four years, said supervised trips away from Washington's St. Elizabeths Hospital (search) to such places as restaurants, bowling alleys and shopping centers have been therapeutic.
The next step in his recovery, Binks said, is to allow Hinckley to visit his parents without hospital staff. "Continued incremental releases are appropriate," he said.
On cross-examination from government lawyer Robert Chapman, Binks acknowledged that if he testified against Hinckley it could hurt his relationship with his patient. He also said Hinckley is on medication and still is mentally ill.
Binks was the first witness called by lawyer Barry W. Levine, who wants U.S. District Judge Paul L. Friedman to allow Hinckley 10 unsupervised visits away from the hospital that has been Hinckley's home since his acquittal by reason of insanity in the March 1981 shooting of Reagan and three others outside a Washington hotel.
Hinckley, 48, said he shot the president to impress actress Jodie Foster (search).
Under a 1999 federal appeals court ruling, Hinckley has been able to take supervised day trips off hospital grounds. Now he wants to travel unescorted three hours away to his parent's home in Williamsburg, Va. The hearing was continuing Tuesday, with a decision likely later this week.
Hinckley sought similar privileges three years ago, but U.S. District Judge June L. Green canceled a hearing after prosecutors said he had a "continued interest in violently themed books and music."
In an interview broadcast Monday on ABC's "Good Morning America," Reagan's son, Ron Reagan Jr., said the would-be assassin now wants a free pass for his actions.
"Maybe if John Hinckley isn't insane any more, he needs to just go to prison, and there he can reflect for awhile on what he did," the former president's son said.
Levine said other psychiatric patients who have gone on supervised visits would have been allowed unaccompanied trips by now.
"Is he going to be judged not by the law but by the identity of the victims of his crime?" Levine asked during his opening statement, with both Hinckley and his parents in the courtroom. Hinckley sat impassively at his lawyers' table during the proceedings.
Levine said the Secret Service, which has followed Hinckley off the hospital grounds during his supervised visits, would be sure to watch him when he visits his parents. "Without doubt, he is probably the least dangerous person on the planet" because every move would be watched by the Secret Service, Levine said.
Binks said Hinckley regularly feeds the stray cats on the St. Elizabeths grounds. He also reads books about cats, as well as magazines and newspapers. He has stopped reading most other books out of fear they would be perceived as violently themed, Binks said.
"He worries about his actions being misinterpreted," Binks said.
Chapman, the government's lawyer, suggested the pared-down reading list might be a way to put up a false front, a possibility acknowledged by Judge Friedman in overruling Levine's objection to a series of questions.
"Maybe he's not reading the books that he's very much interested in because he's learned what to be deceptive about," Friedman said. "I assume that's the argument."
"Is there any evidence that he is currently deceptive?" Levine asked later.
"No," Binks replied.