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TalkBack Live

Should John Hinckley Be Allowed to Go on Unsupervised Trips?

Aired April 11, 2000 - 3:00 p.m. ET


BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: How dangerous is John Hinckley Jr., the man who shot President Reagan and three others back in 1981? Is he well enough to spend unsupervised time with his parents?

Hinckley was committed to a mental hospital after being found not guilty by reason of insanity. Now doctors at St. Elizabeth's Hospital say Hinckley's mental illness is in remission. He doesn't need medication, and he doesn't need close supervision. But can John Hinckley's illness be cured?

President Reagan's family wonders if Hinckley remains a danger to society and opponents wonder if this is the first step toward freedom for a man who shattered dozens of lives.

Ask Hinckley's defense attorney and the man who prosecuted the case. Is John Hinckley Jr. a cured man, or is he still a threat to U.S. society?

That's more like it. Good afternoon and welcome to TALKBACK LIVE. I'm Bill Hemmer, in today for Bobbie Battista.

On this day back in 1981, President Ronald Reagan left the hospital. At the time, he was nursing a gunshot wound inflicted by John Hinckley Jr., a young man at the time apparently seeking to make a name for himself and impress the actress Jodie Foster. Hinckley today is 44 years old. He has spent nearly half his life in a mental hospital: not guilty by reason of insanity.

Hospital officials say he's no longer insane. His condition is in remission. But does that mean he's no longer dangerous?

Joining us now, Vincent Fuller, the man who represented Hinckley at trial and for several years afterwards, into the late '80s. Also with us, Joe DiGenova. He was the deputy chief U.S. attorney at the time.

Gentlemen, thanks for both of your time today. This is an extremely interesting topic, one we'll pick up for the next hour.

First to Mr. Fuller: Why should John Hinckley Jr. be removed and released in an unsupervised fashion one day a week from that mental institution in southeastern Washington?

VINCENT FULLER, FORMER HINCKLEY DEFENSE ATTORNEY: I do not know the nature of the order which the government seeks in this matter, but part of the rehabilitative process would be to be released into the community so he can engage other people as normal people, you and I, do. And this is just one step in the process which will take and has taken 17, 18 years now.

HEMMER: And sir, I'm well-aware you're not a doctor. You are an attorney. But you were with John Hinckley Jr. in early 1981.

FULLER: Right.

HEMMER: Did you believe at the time he had a problem mentally or otherwise?

FULLER: No doubt about it.

HEMMER: Tell us about his condition and what you perceive to be in his character back then.

FULLER: Well, I think, to state it most simply, he was totally detached from reality. He had a false sense of values. For instance, he believed that by shooting the president he somehow was going to ingratiate himself to Ms. Foster, who didn't even know him. And I can't think of anymore strong -- quick a way to alienate somebody as to try to shoot another person.

HEMMER: Your last contact, then, with John Hinckley was when, sir?

FULLER: Probably 1986 .

HEMMER: Did you notice a change in him as a person between 1981 and between the last time you saw him some 14 years ago?

FULLER: I don't think I can answer that. I wouldn't -- I wouldn't venture a guess on that.

HEMMER: Joe DiGenova, should John Hinckley Jr. be given this unsupervised permission?

JOSEPH DIGENOVA, FORMER DEPUTY CHIEF U.S. ATTORNEY: No, I don't think so, Bill. I have two positions on this. One is a public policy position, and that is that anyone who attempts to nullify a national election with a bullet really forfeits their right to roam freely in society.

Second of all, as a legal matter, as you know, the Court of Appeals here ruled last year that these supervised visits by Mr. Hinckley could be decided on by the doctors themselves without any review by a federal judge. And my position on that is whether they're supervised or not, all visits by John Hinckley anywhere should be decided by a federal judge, and if the law doesn't permit that, then the statute in the District of Columbia should be amended by Congress.

HEMMER: Let me understand...

DIGENOVA: ... to require that a federal judge decide whether or not he's allowed to do any of this.

HEMMER: But certainly in a court of law, the judge has an opinion in this matter. It's not only doctors, is it? Is that what...

DIGENOVA: That's my point. That's my point precisely. If the doctors alone make that decision, that to me is a dangerous way to go: not because the doctors aren't good at their jobs but because there's another factor here. And that's the public safety issue, which the doctors aren't necessarily qualified to evaluate.

HEMMER: He has been known to write letters to Charles Manson, Ted Bundy among others. Does this sound like a man of stability to you, sir?

DIGENOVA: Well, I think what's abundantly clear to me is that back in the late '80s when Mr. Hinckley sought release through the doctors actually -- the doctors sought his release -- we insisted that they search John Hinckley's room. The doctors did not want to do that for fear of invading his privacy and interfering with his therapy.

The judge ordered a search of his room, and that's when the letters to Mr. Bundy, the mass murderer, were discovered. And as a result, the hospital withdrew the request that Mr. Hinckley be permitted supervised visits into the community.

I think the problem with John Hinckley is that we may not ever know whether or not he is cured sufficiently to risk the safety of the community in which he would be released. Remember, John Hinckley, it is proposed, be released into the community where this current president of the United States lives. I think that that is unthinkable in this day and age, given the kinds of pressures that even sane people have to deal with in a modern society.

HEMMER: Allow me to flip that just a little bit. We don't want to give the impression that John Hinckley Jr. is going to be eating pizza on the corner on Tuesday nights. This is a very restricted unsupervised visit, up to about eight hours on a Saturday or Sunday with his parents. It's my understanding that Secret Service still visits Hinckley almost on a daily basis in that institution, St. Elizabeth's Hospital in Washington.

In addition to that, many people recommend and suggest that the Secret Service would actually be following him on those unsupervised visits.

Given that, shouldn't we temper this a little bit or not?

DIGENOVA: Well, first of all, I should certainly hope that the Secret Service will be following him, and I'm sure that they will, since that is their job. But as I said, to me there is a public policy question here, which Congress needs to decide, and that is whether or not Mr. Hinckley should be released into the community without the order of a federal judge. And I think that under all circumstances, given the public policy considerations surrounding attempted assassinations, that anyone who is acquitted by reason of insanity, who it is proposed should be released into the community either supervised or unsupervised, that should be decided only by a federal judge upon recommendation of appropriate psychiatrists.

And whatever that judge decides, whatever that might be, I would be willing to live with.

HEMMER: All right. I want to get back to Mr. Fuller in a second here, but Hampton is from Washington, D.C. and he's in our audience now.

Go ahead, Hampton.

HAMPTON: I have a question about the legal precedent here. I mean, if he was found guilty by reason of -- not guilty by reason insanity, how is it that a not guilty person, if he was placed under the stewardship of the mental health authorities, how is it that the mental health authorities don't have the complete say, if he was not guilty by reason of insanity, to be released on unsupervised visits?

HEMMER: There's a mouthful there. Vincent Fuller, do you want to help clarify that please?

FULLER: Well, yes, I think the law is abundantly clear that he cannot be released without court approval. Whether it's conditional or unconditional, the court must sanction the terms of his release and its conditions. So he's not absolutely free to go anywhere, any time as he wishes, but he's restricted to follow the orders of the court.

HEMMER: Quickly, Beth is on the phone from Missouri. I understand you work in the field of psychiatry. Is that correct, Beth?

BETH: Yes, I'm a psychiatric RN. And my question is, what was John Hinckley's diagnosis? Was he schizophrenic or bipolar?

FULLER: Schizophrenic.

BETH: Schizophrenic.


BETH: Well, I would like to see where those psychiatrists say that he's not taking medicine and that he's all right, because once you have schizophrenia or bipolar, you don't get well. Once you're mentally ill with those things, they're very serious: You do not get well.

HEMMER: Beth, quickly, are you a doctor? What are your qualifications?

BETH: I'm a psychiatric RN.

HEMMER: OK. You just said that. I apologize for that. But tell us, is it possible for conditions like John Hinckley Jr.'s to go into remission at some point, at any point? BETH: Not -- not -- he's got to take medications, because schizophrenia -- what happens with those patients is they start to feeling really good when they get out. If he has to go on medications again, which he really needs to do -- he's in a closed area now where he's safe and people are watching him all the time. When he leaves, if indeed he's out for a while, if he does not -- if he feels real good and says, I don't have any problems now, what happens with these patients is they stop taking their medication.

HEMMER: Which ultimately is the question about whether or not...

BETH: They take -- they stop taking their medication and you've got -- you've got the horror back again. And it's not their fault.

HEMMER: Beth, thanks for calling. I want to bring our viewers back to March of 1981. President Reagan, on the way to the airport, is reported to have said, don't worry about me, I guess I forgot to duck. Then later you may remember jokingly he asked if the doctors were Republicans.

Time for a quick break. Up next: judged not guilty by reason of insanity. Is John Hinckley a patient or a criminal? We'll think about that and be right back. Stay tuned.

John Hinckley has not taken psychotropic medication since 1992. He lives on a low security ward at a hospital and holds a part-time clerical job.


HEMMER: All right. Welcome back to TALKBACK LIVE. Good to have you with us on this Tuesday afternoon. I'm Bill Hemmer in today for Bobbie Battista.

With us now live from Washington, D.C. -- once again reintroduce the guests today -- Vincent Fuller, a former attorney for John Hinckley Jr. Next to him, Joseph DiGenova, a former deputy chief U.S. attorney with us as well today.

Gentlemen, before we get back to the questions, Patty Davis, a daughter of Ronald Reagan, wrote in the April 17th edition of "TIME" magazine -- I want to put this up on the screen and let you read her comment. One of a two-page -- part of a two-page article you see right here.

She says: "How does one really know? What if Hinckley is so methodical, so calculating that he has been fooling everyone for all of these years? The legacy of violence is the rage it ignites in others. I wish I did not feel it, but I do. And the worst of it is that keeps him in my mind. He did, after all, crave attention. Sadly he still has mine."

Patty Davis, from a two-page article in "TIME" magazine.

Joseph DiGenova, isn't that the heart of the matter right here: trying to judge indeed if John Hinckley Jr. has changed? DIGENOVA: Yes, and that's why -- while it's important to hear what psychiatrists have to say, it's vitally important that the only person who decides whether he has any type of community visits is a federal judge and not just the doctors.

And the reason for that is, as I said, there are public policy considerations here about the release of a person, not just medical determinations, because earlier in his stay at Saint Elizabeth's, Mr. Hinckley did a very, very fine job of fooling these very same psychiatrists who were recommending that he be released, but who had purposely avoided finding out about his correspondence with Ted Bundy, the serial killer down in Florida who was on death row.

So while I have respect for what psychiatrists do and I think it should be given weight, I think the final decision should only be made by a judge as to whether or not he has visits into the community, either supervised or unsupervised.

HEMMER: Now, you were talking about something that happened better part of 14 years ago. Read this now or react to this anyway: A hospital letter dated March 31st of this year saying that Hinckley caused no problems in a minimum security ward, he walked without an escort for years on the hospital grounds. Does that count for something?

DIGENOVA: Well, it does. And in fact, I think that those would be factors that a federal judge could take into consideration in deciding whether or not a supervised or unsupervised release would be warranted.

But let me confess to you that I have a prejudice in this matter. And that is that I don't believe that anybody who tries to nullify a national election with a bullet and tries to assassinate a president should be presumptively able to walk freely in society except with the most strictest type of conditions.

HEMMER: As we see the videotape from March of 1981 when President Reagan walked out about 2:30 in the afternoon on a rather damp day in Washington, D.C., outside the Washington Hilton Hotel. They say John Hinckley Jr. was a mere 10 feet away from the president at that time. The president took a bullet, so too did three others, including the press secretary at the time, James Brady, who still fights for gun control issues today.

Back in our audience now from Ohio, here's Gene with a legal question, Gene, go ahead.

GENE: Yes. As I was listening to the tape -- the reading that Patty had, his daughter, she had a good point, because he had to cleverly plan an assassination on our president. And with that much cleverness and wittiness to go into temporary insanity, that tells me he planned even that part. Now, he's considered "cured" -- quote/unquote. And to be released into the community, that he's putting perhaps other citizens at risk.

I really think they need to reconsider their decision and try him as an attempted murderer, as a sane individual. That's what we need to do.

HEMMER: I wonder if that's even legal. Joseph DiGenova, is it at all?

DIGENOVA: Well, he can't -- he can't be tried again for this case. The issue now is simply a question of whether or not he can be released into the community and under what circumstances. So, that is not a possibility for him to be retried.

But I do think that the member of the audience has pointed out something that's important, and we just talked about it, and that is that in many instances, people who suffer from illnesses like this are very, very intelligent. They're very bright. They are very good at deception.

He clearly deceived the doctors in the mid-1980s about his state, but...

HEMMER: You're suggesting he can be cunning and sly, I would assume?

DIGENOVA: Well, I don't think there's any question about that. But as I said, this is an issue for a court of law, and whether or not he is released is something that should be decided by a court and not merely by his psychiatrists.

HEMMER: All right, back in our audience here -- here's Robert from Ohio. Robert, quickly.

ROBERT: Yes, regarding his possible conditional release, would circumstances surrounding his possible conditional release, would they be considered to be typical or atypical?

HEMMER: Vincent Fuller, can you give us a response on that?

FULLER: I do not -- I have not read the order proposed for his release, but from what I have read in the paper he would be released but under the careful watch of the Secret Service, FBI, whatever federal law enforcement officers were interested. It's not an unconditional release as you and I would use the term.

HEMMER: Right. Try and answer this then: Back in 1987, there was another order that went before a court, a request to have a similar unsupervised visit or tour for John Hinckley Jr. It was turned down at the time. Do we know why, what the conditions or factors were back in 1997 for that?

FULLER: '97?

HEMMER: Yes, back in 1997.

FULLER; I have no idea.

HEMMER: Joseph DiGenova, did you follow that?

DIGENOVA: The federal judge -- yes. The federal judge in the case, Judge Green (ph), reviewed the matter, took testimony from the psychiatrists at Saint Elizabeth's and determined that such a release was inappropriate under the law in a statute which it was thought governed these cases.

HEMMER: Joseph DiGenova, Vincent Fuller, stand by there live in Washington. We're going to get another commercial time out here.

Another quote, though, from Patty Davis from "Time" magazine, saying -- quote -- "Less than 48 hours after my father was shot, he said this about Hinckley: 'I know that my healing depends on forgiving him. He's a misguided young man.'" She continues though, "What he thinks today will not be known, will never be know due to his disease with Alzheimer's."

Quick break here. Back in two minutes with TALKBACK LIVE.

In 1987, plans for Hinckley to make an Easter visit to his family were canceled, this after learning he had corresponded with serial killer Ted Bundy. Hospital officials also found 57 hidden pictures of actress Jodie Foster in his room and a letter praising Charles Manson.


BATTISTA: All right. Welcome back to TALKBACK LIVE. I am Bill Hemmer, in today for Bobbie Battista.

We hope Bobbie is home getting better today. We're talking about John Hinckley Jr. and a recent request from a mental hospital in Washington D.C. to allow John Hinckley Jr. to have one day a week unsupervised visits with his parents. That's the issue today.

Danny is in our audience today from California with a quick comment.

Go ahead, Danny.

DANNY: I think since we have so many problems now, people shooting and handling -- knowing how to handle guns, why are we releasing people that have been convicted, is mentally -- I mean, if the guy comes and says, I am insane, mentally insane, give him the right to come out of and threaten society again? I mean, I think we have a big problem anyway right now. So to me, in my opinion, he shouldn't even be coming out.

HEMMER: These are the questions that a lot of people in Washington will be trying to decide. Vincent Fuller, what do we know about John Hinckley Jr. today?

FULLER: You're asking the wrong person. I have not represented him since 1985 or '86, I have not seen him since then, so I cannot speak to his condition.

HEMMER: Joseph DiGenova, there in Washington D.C., do many people talk about him today as a person, what he's doing behind the walls there at Saint Elizabeth's? DIGENOVA: The only time there is ever a discussion of John Hinckley is when one of these proposed visits into the community comes public. This happened last year when there was a hearing and the issue was vetted in the court of appeals. I think most people understand he's in a treatment situation there, and I think most people would like to see him stay there. They have no problem with him having the run of the Saint Elizabeth's Hospital and its campus but I think the general feeling in the community here is that the risks posed by him being in the community, even with the FBI and the Secret Service expending large resources to follow him and monitor him is not a risk that most people think is worth taking. But as I said, the real issue is whether or not a federal judge should decide that question, and I think as long as a judge is deciding whether or not he should be released and not just his psychiatrist, who have a vested interest, and in my opinion, a conflict of interest, then I think I would be satisfied if a judge and a judge alone were making that decision.

HEMMER: I am told, or it's reported anyway, that he's actually engaged. Is that accurate?

DIGENOVA: That has been reported.

HEMMER: But there's no confirmation as to whether or not that's indeed true?

DIGENOVA: Well, I don't have any personal knowledge of it, but I know he has been seeing -- there have been published reports, which have not been denied, that he has been seeing a woman there for some time, and he's in regular communication with her and visits with her.

HEMMER: On the telephone, Sam from Nebraska.

Sam, thanks for calling. Go ahead with your with your comment or question please.

SAM: Hi there.

I just feel that John Hinckley is -- the only reason that he's being considered for an unsupervised release is because of the wealth and the prominence of his family. And I think if anyone else, such as the common person in the U.S., wouldn't get the same consideration that he's getting.

HEMMER: interesting point. I do know his father, John Hinckley Jr.'s father was, at the time anyway, in a pretty prominent position with an energy company in Colorado.

Joseph DiGenova, what about that issue that keeps coming up at certain times? Is it just the money that allows him to get the attention legally?

DIGENOVA: No, I don't so. I must tell you that there are other patients who are at Saint Elizabeth's who undergo these same evaluation by the doctors and are subject to the same rules and restrictions. I do think that, obviously, they don't get any attention, because they didn't try to assassinate the president of the United States.

Mr. Hinckley gets the kind of attention he does because the question of whether or not he should be allowed into the community is a very serious public policy question that involves not just psychiatry, but public safety, and that's as it should be. When someone tries to nullify a national election with a bullet, they are a very special person who deserves very special attention.

HEMMER: Time for us to get another break here. Coming up here, we'll talk with a psychiatrist from Chicago about mental health and whether it does indeed get a fair shake or whether or not there's a bias when it comes to this issue.

Quick break here. We'll be back with more TALKBACK LIVE in just a bit.


HEMMER: All right, welcome back to TALKBACK LIVE. I am Bill Hemmer in today for Bobbie Battista.

Joining us now is Helen Morrison, a child adolescent and adult psychiatrist. She is a professor at Loyola University School of Law there in Chicago. Doctor, thanks for your time today.


HEMMER: You know the issue, John Hinckley Jr. Is it possible for his case to go into remission and actually improve his condition and keep it that way?

MORRISON: Well, that's a three-part question. Yes, it's possible for him to go into remission, but to keep it that way, no one's going to be able to predict at all whether he will revert back to his original behaviors and beliefs.

HEMMER: Do you believe, then, that you would have concerns about him being out in public?

MORRISON: I would have concerns initially, primarily because we don't know how he's going to react to the stresses of being out there, the stress of the people recognizing him, of being in the same community in which he committed his original crime, and it's going to be a matter of closely observing his mental status changes before and afterwards.

HEMMER: Given cases like these, and I know you have never diagnosed John Hinckley Jr....


HEMMER: I would not ask you specifically about his case, but how common or not common is it that people similar to his case are indeed allowed to go back out for either unsupervised visits or in fact just to have their own freedom back? MORRISON: Well, you're again asking two questions. One, there's the psychiatric question of can a person go out and be expected to follow the rules of the world outside? But what you're talking about is the legal aspect. It's the law that's going to decide whether he goes out and stays out. We don't have very much to do with that as physicians.

HEMMER: Yes, quickly, let's talk about the law then. Joseph DiGenova seems to indicate that judges should indeed decide whether or not a person is fit like John Hinckley Jr. to go out in public. Should it be judges? Should it be doctors? Should it be 50-50 or something like that?

MORRISON: Well, it's basically the judge. We are unable to go against the laws of the state or the jurisdiction. If they say that there is no imminent risk of harm to self or others and the person is capable of being out there, the physician can go into court and say, you know, I'm concerned about this man regressing. I'm concerned about how he's going to react to stress, but it will be the judge who makes the decision.

HEMMER: All right. Betty from Ohio has a question now. Betty, go ahead.

BETTY: Yes, my question is if the testimony from a psychiatrist is weighed heavily enough to decide whether or not a person is guilty or not, then why shouldn't that testimony be weighed just as heavy on the decision on whether he should be released?

HEMMER: Good question, Doctor?

MORRISON: Well, there really isn't a difference between a civil and criminal proceeding. We're talking about a civil proceeding. It really isn't the word of the psychiatrist as to whether somebody is guilty or not. That's the job of the jury. It's the job of the physician, whether the defense or prosecution, to explain how they thought the person got to the place where they happened to be when they committed the crime. The same thing happens when the person is due for a release or for passes. The judge weighs that as only part of the record of his decision making.

HEMMER: All right. Naomi from California, go ahead, please.

NAOMI: Yes, I would like to know what criteria the hospital physicians have used to determine that Hinckley has sufficiently recovered from his mental illness enough to be allowed these unsupervised visits?

HEMMER: Do we know, Doctor? Is that too case specific?

MORRISON: I don't know what that hospital is, but in general, what the courts are looking for is someone who is not acutely mentally ill, meaning that they're not believing that voices are telling them what to do or they're not believing that everyone in the world is after them at that moment. And the other thing that the judges and courts will look for is, is the person capable of handling themselves under stress? Is the person ready to commit homicide in the next few days or suicide in the next few days? And that's basically the bottom line. Is this person going to pose a danger to society?

HEMMER: Let me get right back to that. I want to get a little more specific in a second. First on the phone, Michael from New Hampshire. Michael, question or comment, go ahead.

MICHAEL: I just have a question and a comment. I was just wondering if the doctors think he's so mentally capable of going out into the community on a unsupervised visit, if he's that mentally OK, why aren't they transferring him to a federal prison where a sane man belongs that tried to shoot someone? I don't understand why they would just automatically let him out. Shouldn't it be kind of a step into like a more secure facility and with more normal people?

HEMMER: Michael, thank you. Doctor, go ahead.

MORRISON: Well, there are two issues. One, was he found guilty but mentally ill? In many jurisdictions, once his mental illness is cured he does go into prison. If he was found insane and not culpable for his crimes at all, then he will walk.

And basically what happens is since 1972 the courts have said a person has the right to be free with very few societal safeguards, and it is not going to be the decision of the doctors. It will be the decision of the courts as to whether this person will regain his freedom and in what way.

HEMMER: Point well taken. Can you be specific with me and with our audience here in Atlanta as to what sort of criteria doctors look for to base their opinion that indeed he should be unsupervised? What do you look for over the years? Is it just mental capacity? Is it walking around the grounds of the hospital? Tell me.

MORRISON: Generally what you do is a step-wise introduction back into society that does not have supervision. First of all, the mental status. As I said before, is this person still believing that people are after him? Has he got access to a weapon? Does he have a plan to hurt the same person he hurt before or someone in a similar place? What kind of things is he showing on the ward in which he's living to the people who really know him, the nurses, the aides, and maybe the psychiatrist who has been spending a lot of time with him?

Secondly, how does he react to stresses that are put on him? Limitations in his activities, how has he reacted to walking on the grounds? And that's what we look for.

HEMMER: OK, Dr. Morrison, stand by there in Chicago. Going to get a quick time-out here. Willis from Ohio sent us this fax. He says, "Letting John Hinckley run loose is a disgrace to a man like Jim Brady. I guess money does talk." That again from Willis in Ohio. Two-minute time-out. We're back after this on TALKBACK LIVE.


HEMMER: All right, welcome back to TALKBACK LIVE. Just about 17 minutes left here on our program today.

I want to reintroduce our guests. First from Chicago, Dr. Morrison is with us today. She's a psychiatrist working in psychiatry there at Lowell University. Also from Washington, Joseph DiGenova, former deputy chief U.S. attorney, and with him, Vincent Fuller, former Hinckley defense attorney in the 1980s.

Back in our audience. Some really interesting comments we're getting here from the folks today.

First Rico from Ohio -- Rico, go ahead.

RICO: OK, if Mr. Hinckley is let out into society, he's going to be watched by secret agents and FBI. Why even let him out if you can't trust him?

HEMMER: Interesting point.


HEMMER: Joseph DiGenova, is that ultimately a decision that will be decided in this matter?

DIGENOVA: First of all, let me just say that that young gentleman ought to be a lawyer. That's a pretty question.

RICO: How old are you, Rico? Sixteen. He's got a ways to go, but he may get there eventually.

DIGENOVA: That's OK. He's a lot smarter than some of the lawyers I know, I can tell you right now.

HEMMER: He's smiling in Atlanta, so you made his day -- go ahead.

DIGENOVA: That actually is the question though, and the way he put it is just absolutely brilliant. I mean, if in fact, a political -- a public-policy decision is that he must be monitored by the Secret Service and the FBI while he is out, then I think as a matter -- I mean, we have already told ourselves that this is a pretty tough decision to make. You know, it would be one thing if Mr. Hinckley were being released in Colorado to walk around Boulder, but he's being released into the community where the current president of the United States lives. There are risks involved in that, no matter how many people are watching him.

And while I understand his families desires, which all of us can understand, the truth is, if they can visit at Saint Elizabeth's and he can have freedom to visit with them there, it seems to me that...

HEMMER: Let's take it a little deeper here. I know where you're going on this. But isn't this a case of the mental health expert saying that, indeed, we have done work with this man and we now have something to show for it?

DIGENOVA: Oh, it certainly is, and that's why I say that they should not be the ones to make a final decision because they have a vested interest in saying Mr. Hinckley is cured. Many psychiatrists in this field want so desperately to believe that these therapist work that they want their clients to succeed even when their clients don't, and that's why the decision of whether or not he should be in the community should be left to a federal judge.

HEMMER: I appreciate your comment, Gene in our audience, going to go to him in a second.

But, Dr. Morrison, I want to give you a chance to respond to that. Is that indeed the case in some circles when it comes to mental health?

MORRISON: Well, I would think that's obviously the case. There is a vested interest that both lawyers and psychiatrists have in proving their side of the story as true. But it is not true that the psychiatrists alone makes the decision about whether this individual, or any individual, can have complete freedom.

HEMMER: In our audience, here's Gene now.

GENE: Yes, this question is really a comment sort of. National security is at risk now when they release him, and also what has been studied from the other convicted people who've tried to assassinate our president. I can recall an incident with President Clinton where a gentlemen hopped a fence and made some attempts. Has any studies been done in reference to that to see what we can look for in the future on securing our security.

HEMMER: I think the best person to answer that is Joe DiGenova.

DIGENOVA: Well, what happens in a lot of these cases, where someone, say, jumps a fence, but doesn't actually threaten the president or do anything, they are given psychiatric evaluation, and then most of the time, those people are released, because they haven't committed a crime yet. They go on a Secret Service watch list, and they are regularly observed and their movements are traced.

With regard to people that have been convicted, those people, like say Squeaky Fromme and others, who tried to assassinate Jerry Ford, those people are in prison, and they're never getting out. The problem is Mr. Hinckley was found not guilty by reason of insanity, so if he is released, say ultimately released and let go, he must, by law, be released into society, because he can't be sent to prison, because was found not guilty.

HEMMER: Just to follow that up, wasn't there a gentleman, I think it was six years, in front of the White House Pennsylvania Avenue, open up fire on the building itself.

DIGENOVA: Yes, he's in prison, and he's going nowhere. We won't have to worry about that decision.

HEMMER: Fair enough. Quick time out here.

Rico, you're a stud, by the way. Thanks you for the great question today. Smile, OK.

Quick break here. Back for more TALKBACK LIVE in just a bit.


HEMMER: OK, just a few moments left here. I want to get some final comments not only from our guests but also from some folks in the audience. First to Kelvin here from Ohio.

Kelvin, go ahead.

KELVIN: OK. After listening to this segment here, I'm basically hearing a lot of treatment, a lot of security. I'm hearing a lot of attention to this individual who attempted to assassinate the president.

What are the costs of it, I mean, to the American taxpayer? I just feel that it's ridiculous, I mean, to some point just let's execute the guy and move on, which will be a deterrent from anyone else going that rout.

HEMMER: I didn't mean to cut you off there. We're just going to shoot it over here to Nate over here and get a quick comment. Thanks, Kelvin.

NATE: Well, first of all, the man was found not guilty of committing this crime. So to execute him would be wrong. You can't try him again. That's double jeopardy.

As the tax money going -- that's going to pay for this, well, I mean, what is the people's motives that are putting it -- that are making these decisions? Are they trying to rehabilitate this man so that he may become a productive member of society again, or are they just trying to babysit him the rest of his life? In that case, then a lot of money is being wasted if they're not going to work to get this man his freedom.

HEMMER: Nate, thanks for the comment.

Quickly, Annie from Australia, give us an international perspective, quickly.

ANNIE: I think America is a great country except the only thing -- the bad about it is that you have so many like -- your priorities with the gun laws are really bad. Like, you should tighten up the gun laws and then these people won't get their hands on them in the first place. I mean, if you don't have the weapons, they can't do the harm.

HEMMER: Dr. Morrison, what is important for us to know about this case in the 15 seconds we have left?

MORRISON: In the 15 seconds, we can't predict what this man is going to do in the future. We have to follow the law, but we darn well better be prepared in case he's trouble again.

HEMMER: Dr. Morrison, Joseph DiGenova, Vincent Fuller, appreciate the time and the comments today, much appreciated. Thank you and come back.

MORRISON: Thank you.

DIGENOVA: Thank you.

HEMMER: Also, thanks to our studio audience here in Atlanta, very good -- Enrico. Have a great Tuesday. So long everybody.



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