Fmr. Assist. US Attorney on Hinckley: "Disaster Waiting to Happen"

Wednesday, 21 Dec 2011 04:01 PM

By Ronald Kessler

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A new law is needed to detain John W. Hinckley Jr., who attempted to assassinate President Ronald Reagan, Joe diGenova, the principal assistant U.S. attorney in Washington during Hinckley’s prosecution, tells Newsmax.

When Hinckley was found not guilty by reason of insanity for shooting Reagan, everyone thought he would be imprisoned in a mental institution for life. Incredibly, that has not been the case.

Presently confined to Saint Elizabeths Hospital in Washington, Hinckley is allowed to periodically stay with his mother in the Williamsburg, Va. area. His lawyer has been pushing to have him freed entirely.
Image of John Hinkley after Ronald Reagan shooting.
John Hinckley at the time of his arrest.


That would be a “disaster waiting to happen,” diGenova, who became U.S. attorney in Washington, tells Newsmax. DiGenova says a new law is needed to make sure Hinckley and others who assassinate or try to assassinate presidents never get out.

Because the Secret Service considers Hinckley to be a continuing threat, agents are assigned to follow him during his furloughs. That is a colossal waste of taxpayer money, diGenova says.

As a result of the surveillance, “Agents are taken away from protecting Barack Obama, our current president,” says diGenova. “It is disgraceful that anyone can possibly think about releasing a man who so obviously continues to be severely mentally ill. That is not acceptable in a free society.”

Hinckley was found not guilty by reason of insanity in the March 1981 shooting of Reagan, Reagan press secretary James Brady, Secret Service agent Timothy McCarthy, and D.C. police officer James Delahanty. Under a civil or involuntary commitment, a judge is bound to consider the recommendations of psychiatrists to determine if Hinckley can be let out permanently or released temporarily for furloughs.

Based on those recommendations, U.S. District Court Judge Paul L. Friedman has been allowing Hinckley to visit his mother. Next month, Friedman will consider Hinckley’s request to be freed entirely.

As noted in my book “In the President’s Secret Service: Behind the Scenes with Agents in the Line of Fire and the Presidents They Protect,” the Secret Service compiles a list of possible threats. A Class III threat is defined as an individual who wants to carry out an assassination and has the capability of doing it. These individuals are constantly checked on. Hinckley is classified as a Class III threat.

Editor's Note: Get Ron Kessler's book. Go Here Now.

During one of Hinckley’s furloughs to Williamsburg, a Secret Service agent spotted Hinckley, who was supposed to be going to a movie, walking to the theater and then going into a nearby bookstore. According to what Assistant U.S. Attorney Sarah Chasson told Friedman at a hearing, Hinckley “entered the Barnes & Noble nearby where he began to browse. Mr. Hinckley looked at books about President Reagan and about presidential assassins. He then shuttled back and forth between the bookstore and the movie theater.”

Hinckley later misled his treatment team, telling them that he had seen “Captain America,” even raving about the film, Chasson told the judge.

Chasson said the episode proved that Hinckley “will do whatever he wants and then not tell the truth about it.” It also revealed flaws in the hospital’s treatment proposal, she said, because it would rely heavily on Hinckley to report his own whereabouts and activities.

Along the same lines, Hinckley in 2009 looked up photos of his female dentist on the Internet. He feigned a toothache to try to see her and claimed falsely that she had invited him to view her photos.

After shooting Reagan, Hinckley wrote a letter to a reporter boasting that his assassination attempt was “the greatest love offering in the history of the world.” He said that neither hospitalization nor imprisonment could diminish his “historical” shooting of President Reagan to win the actress Jodie Foster’s love.

DiGenova says that whether Hinckley is freed or simply allowed longer visits, the Secret Service will be obliged to watch him.

“The Secret Service is never going to rely on John Hinckley saying that he is taking his medicine,” diGenova says. “They are going to have to have agents in Williamsburg watching his house constantly. The cost to the American people is going to be astronomic.”

As pointed out in my story "Secret Service Cost-Cutting Leaves President Vulnerable," the Secret Service tends to passively accept whatever duties are thrust upon it. As a result, the agency has not pushed for any change in the law that results in agents’ babysitting a deceitful Hinckley at taxpayer expense.

Calling Friedman an excellent judge, diGenova says he doubts he will free Hinckley any time soon. However, diGenova says Friedman has been allowing Hinckley out on furloughs because the law requires him to listen to Hinckley’s psychiatrists who say he is no threat.

“The psychiatrists at Saint Elizabeths . . . want John Hinckley to take these trips and to eventually live alone to prove their theories of so-called remission or cure,” says diGenova, a partner in diGenova & Toensing. “John Hinckley will be mentally ill for the rest of his life. He is incurable.”

DiGenova says Congress should pas a law that requires lifetime incarceration in a mental institution for anyone found not guilty by reason of insanity of assassinating or attempting to assassinate a president. Because the law would govern a civil or involuntary commitment, it could be applied retroactively to Hinckley, diGenova says.

“To put any president at risk with him self-medicating in Williamsburg is absurd,” diGenova says. “I just don’t think that we can allow somebody who tried to nullify an election with a bullet to roam freely with no supervision but himself.”

Ronald Kessler is chief Washington correspondent of Newsmax.com. He is a New York Times best-selling author of books on the Secret Service, FBI, and CIA. His latest, "The Secrets of the FBI," has just been published. View his previous reports and get his dispatches sent to you free via email. Go Here Now.

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