WASHINGTON – John Hinckley's (search) sister told a federal judge Tuesday that she could help supervise her younger brother if he is allowed to take longer unsupervised visits away from the psychiatric hospital where he has lived since trying to assassinate President Reagan in 1981.
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.
Hinckley, 49, sat silently in a federal courtroom during the second day of a hearing to determine whether he is well enough to spend several days at a time off the grounds of the Washington mental hospital. Doctors who have treated or evaluated Hinckley said he is mentally fit and ready for longer, unsupervised trips.
Hinckley 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 U.S. District Judge Paul 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.
"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 (search) 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 (search).
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.
Reagan and the assassination attempt were barely mentioned in court Monday. Testimony focused on what prosecutors called Hinckley's unclear relationship with a former girlfriend who was also a patient at St. Elizabeths.
The former girlfriend, Leslie DeVeau, is not expected to testify during the current hearing, which is expected to last several days.
The government suggested Hinckley is not as healthy and well adjusted as his doctors and advocates claim. Hinckley's violent past is linked to his feelings about women, federal prosecutor Robert Chapman argued.
"The nature of Mr. Hinckley's relationship with Miss DeVeau must be resolved," Chapman said.
Hinckley was disappointed when DeVeau broke off their romance, but has accepted the breakup, Keisling said. The two are still close friends, and Hinckley talks to DeVeau by phone twice a day, and sees her once a week, Keisling said.