By Jeremy Pelofsky
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The man who tried to kill President Ronald Reagan was observed browsing books about his one-time target and other presidential assassins, prosecutors said on Wednesday as a U.S. judge weighed whether to grant John Hinckley Jr. more time away from a mental hospital.
Hinckley, who was found not guilty by reason of insanity for his 1981 attempt to assassinate Reagan, has been in a mental ward for almost three decades. He has been allowed to leave repeatedly to visit family in Williamsburg, Virginia.
His lawyers argued that Hinckley deserved more time away from the hospital and eventual release, saying that the hospital and his doctors do not believe he is a danger to himself or others anymore.
Prosecutors countered that Hinckley has engaged in repeated deception when away from the hospital, telling doctors he went to see a movie, but Secret Service agents tailing him found him browsing books on Reagan and presidential assassins at a Barnes and Noble bookstore on July 24, 2011.
"Mr. Hinckley has a long history of deception and misconduct," Sarah Chasson, an assistant U.S. attorney told Judge Paul Friedman, who is weighing Hinckley's request for more time away from the hospital and eventual release.
"Is this deception new? Of course not," Chasson said. She also said that Hinckley lied to doctors when he said he went to another movie a few weeks later and about his shopping trips.
While he went to the movie theater box office on the two occasions mentioned, Chasson said, he never bought tickets and instead meandered around a nearby restaurant and bookstore.
Hinckley's lawyer said that his client's lack of candor about going to the movies was a "very foolish error" but that doctors at the hospital classify him as a low risk of danger to himself and to society.
"The doctors at the hospital say he is not dangerous," said Barry Levine. "Perfection is not the standard."
Hinckley, 56, sat quietly in a brown sports coat, his brown hair starting to thin and gray. He occasionally leaned over to whisper something to his lawyer.
Hinckley tried to kill Reagan outside a Washington hotel in 1981 in order to impress actress Jodie Foster, with whom he was obsessed. Reagan was wounded, as were White House spokesman James Brady, a Secret Service agent and a police officer.
The new revelations came on the first of several days of hearings on whether to grant Hinckley more time away from the hospital. The judge's decision is expected in coming weeks.
Prosecutors plan to call as many as six Secret Service agents during the hearings, according to a witness list. Agents have conducted surveillance on Hinckley during many of his visits to Williamsburg, according to prosecutors.
(Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and Bill Trott)