The opinion of the court was delivered by: GREEN
Before the Court is the Petitioner, John W. Hinckley, Jr.'s, Motion for Conditional Release and to Vacate "Stipulated" Order Dated April 24, 1987, pursuant to Title 24 D.C. Code § 24-301(k). The Government has filed an opposition to this motion. An evidentiary hearing on the requested relief was held on June 9, 10, 11 and 12, 1997. Pursuant to the evidence presented to the Court and based upon the findings of fact that follow, the Court concludes that John W. Hinckley, Jr. continues to present a danger to himself or others and that his motion must, therefore, be denied.
In 1981, in a failed assassination attempt, Petitioner shot and wounded four individuals including then-President of the United States, Ronald Reagan. At his criminal trial, Petitioner presented evidence that he was suffering from a mental disease and that his criminal actions were the result of such disease. Petitioner was acquitted of the charges brought against him by reason of insanity and, following his trial, committed to St. Elizabeths Hospital ("the Hospital") where he has remained since June 21, 1982.
In the nearly sixteen years since his commitment began, Petitioner has at various times sought some form of release from the Court pursuant to D.C. Code § 301(k). Each time, Petitioner's request was either denied or withdrawn.
Moreover, requests by the Hospital in 1987 and 1988 that Mr. Hinckley be released into the community under the supervision of Hospital staff were also withdrawn. See Letter from Prescott to United States District Court of 4/15/87; Withdrawal in open court at hearing of 8/12/88.
In the motion at issue here, Petitioner asks the Court to release him into the community in the care of his parents, but otherwise unsupervised, for twelve hours each month. Petitioner also asks that a stipulation entered in 1987 requiring that the Hospital give two-weeks notice to the Court and to the United States Attorney's Office prior to any supervised excursions off the grounds of the Hospital be vacated.
Beginning June 9, 1997, the Court received evidence during a four-day evidentiary hearing. The Petitioner presented five witnesses including four experts: two psychologists, Drs. Kirk S. Heilbrun and R. Mark Binderman; and two psychiatrists, Drs. William T. Carpenter and John J. Kelley. The Petitioner's father, John Hinckley Sr. also testified. The Government, for its part, offered the testimony of a fact witness, Cmdr. Jeanette Wick, as well as its own expert psychiatrist, Dr. Raymond F. Patterson.
As a motion for conditional release made pursuant to D.C. Code § 24-301(k), the Court is required to make findings of fact and conclusions of law with regard to whether the proposed release will benefit the patient and be safe for the public. United States v. Ecker, II, 177 U.S. App. D.C. 31, 543 F.2d 178, 191 (D.C. Cir. 1976). In order for the Petitioner to be successful, the Court must, after weighing all of the evidence, find (by a preponderance of the evidence) that the Petitioner "will not, in the reasonable future, endanger himself or others." 543 F.2d at 187. The Court in Ecker II noted that it is not "sufficient for the district court merely to find that the patient 'is no longer likely to injure himself or other persons because of mental illness.'" Id. The Court must make an "affirmative finding that it is at least more probable than not that [Petitioner] will not be violently dangerous in the future." Id.
In receiving and weighing the evidence, the Court is not bound to accept the opinion of any expert witness but is free to consider other evidence including "the patient's hospital file, the court files and records in the case, and whatever illumination is provided by counsel." 543 F.2d at 184-185.
In examining the evidence here, the Court notes that the request for conditional release has not come from the Hospital, but from the Petitioner and that the Hospital has, in fact, denied a similar request made by the Petitioner. Such a posture makes an exacting review of the evidence that much more important.
Experts Offered by the Petitioner
Petitioner's experts were in substantial agreement concerning Mr. Hinckley's current diagnosis: that is, that Petitioner suffers from psychotic disorder not otherwise specified, in remission; major depression, in remission; and, narcissistic personality disorder.
The opinions of the Petitioner's experts essentially are that Petitioner would present a very low risk of danger to himself or others should his request for conditional release be granted. Tr. 31, 177, 218, 290. These opinions were based upon the results of psychological testing, interviews with Hospital staff, and review of medical records. Tr. 31, 177. These experts also agreed, for the most part, that Petitioner's prior active mental illness was such that any symptomatic recurrence would likely progress over a period of time longer than the twelve hours involved in the requested monthly excursions. Tr. 77-78, 283. This is significant, they reasoned, because any symptoms would, therefore, be detectable in advance of an unescorted visit. Id.
Fact Witness Offered by the Government - Cmdr. Jeanette Wick
Following the close of the Petitioner's case, the Government offered the testimony of Cmdr. Jeanette Wick, Chief Pharmacist at the Hospital. Cmdr. Wick testified regarding her relationship with the Petitioner. She stated that she first became personally acquainted with the Petitioner when she offered to lend him a book in late February or early March of 1995. Tr. 504, 506. Cmdr. Wick stated that Mr. Hinckley began to visit her office fairly frequently and that these visits were unannounced. Tr. 504. During these visits, Cmdr. Wick stated that Petitioner would talk about books that he was reading or wanted to read. Id. Cmdr. Wick also testified that on these occasions, Petitioner asked her advice on whether she thought he should be interviewed by Barbara Walters and gave her audio tapes of music he had recorded, including one "love song" containing the pet name of her daughter. Tr. 515. Even more disturbing to Cmdr. Wick was her discovery that the Petitioner had been gathering information about her after-hours personal schedule with her daughter. Tr. 512.
In September of 1995, however, Cmdr. Wick testified that she filed an Incident Report because Petitioner had disobeyed a directive that he not deliver a package to her. Tr. 523-525. An investigation followed and Petitioner was given three restrictions: 1) Petitioner was not to go in the general vicinity of the building in which Jeanette Wick worked; 2) Petitioner must limit his contact with Jeannette Wick solely to business and there could be no social relationship; and, 3) whenever he planned to use his grounds privileges he must first speak to some member of the treatment team and indicate what he was going to do and where he was going to be. Tr. 400.
In response to a question regarding whether she has had contact with the Petitioner in the wake of the Incident Report and the subsequent investigation, Cmdr. Wick testified that she encounters the Petitioner on the third Monday of each month because of her attendance at a committee meeting in the Acute Care Hospital and that Petitioner is frequently standing in the lobby when she arrives. Tr. 528. Asked to describe the encounter, Cmdr. Wick testified regarding one example occurring in March 1996: "[Petitioner] glares at me. He stares at me. I guess the kids would say, he stares me down." Id. She added: "I went to the elevator, and as I went to the elevator, [Petitioner] re-situated himself so he could keep me in his line of vision apparently."
The Court credits Cmdr. Wick's testimony. In addition to a demeanor that suggests a high degree of credibility, the Petitioner has failed to directly rebut any of her testimony. Further, the testimony offered by the Petitioner of Dr. Kelley and his investigation into the so called "Wick Incident" does not, in the Court's view, indirectly rebut Cmdr. Wick's testimony.
Expert Offered by the Government
The Government offered only one expert witness: Dr. Raymond F. Patterson. Dr. Patterson's diagnosis of the Petitioner does not vary from that of Petitioner's experts or the Hospital's diagnosis. He too believes that Petitioner's major illnesses, psychotic disorder not otherwise specified and major depression, are in remission. Tr. 577. Dr. Patterson, however, does not concur with Petitioner's experts that Petitioner will not be dangerous to himself or others in the reasonable future if allowed unaccompanied visits with his parents. Tr. 578. What is compelling to the Court are Dr. Patterson's reasons for his opinion. As Dr. Patterson testified:
The Witness: The last time Mr. Hinckley was in the Community, unattended or unsupervised, the risk of dangerousness was extremely high. That was 16 years ago. Therefore, you have to consider past history and what factors went into his having committed that offense, and his subsequent improvement as observed by hospital staff and as reported by himself and by others, and the psychological testing that demonstrates some improvements in some areas and some concerns that some very core personality issues remain unchanged.
Dr. Patterson describes the "stalking" parallel as significant because of Petitioner's history of stalking individuals including President Carter, President Reagan and Jodie Foster. Tr. 585. Dr. Patterson described such stalking as eventually leading to ...