WASHINGTON -- John W. Hinckley Jr. was suffering from severe mental illness, compounded by a lack of sleep and the effects of medication, on the day he shot President Reagan, a defense psychiatrist testified today.
Dr. David Baer of the Harvard Medical School became the second defense expert to tell a jury that Hinckley suffered from a form of schizophrenia at the time of the March 30, 1981, assassination attempt.
Hinckley 26, sat quietly at the defense table as his trial on charges of trying to kill Reagan entered its 16th day. His parents sat in the spectator section of the heavily guarded courtroom.
Baer, a psychiatrist with a special interest in studying how the brain affects emotions, said he diagnosed Hinckley as having 'schizophrenic spectrum disorder' and suffering from a major depression.
Hinckley's condition also was affected by a 'significant loss of sleep' over the five days before the shooting and by medicine he was taking at the time, Baer said. Prescriptions for the tranquilizer Valium and an anti-depressant drug were found in the hotel room where Hinckley stayed before the shooting.
Baer said he based his conclusions on extensive interviews with Hinckley and his family.
In addition, Baer said he had the 'remarkable opportunity to see how (Hinckley's) mind worked' by reviewing the presidential assailant's own writings. Many of Hinckley's writings and poems, introduced into evidence at the trial, reflected suicidal tendencies and disillusionment with the world.
On Monday, Dr. William Carpenter Jr., another defense psychiatrist, completed 2 days of testimony after diagnosing Hinckley's condition as 'process schizophrenia.'
Carpenter, under more than five hours of cross-examination, stuck by his opinion that Hinckley was mentally ill when he shot Reagan and three others and described Hinckley's infatuation with the film 'Taxi Driver.'
The defense wants to show the jury the film, which is about an alienated cabbie who stalks a presidential candidate. U.S. District Judge Barrington Parker has yet to rule on the request.
Carpenter testified Hinckley took on many traits of the film's main character, Travis Bickle, believed that he sometimes heard Bickle's voice and registered at a motel a few weeks before the shooting as 'J. Travis.'
He also said Hinckley was obsessed with actress Jodie Foster, who played a prostitute in the film, and shot Reagan as part of a twisted plan to carry out his own suicide or possibly suicide-homicide with Miss Foster.
Carpenter, a University of Maryland professor, interviewed Hinckley for 44 hours. He said Hinckley was able to conceal from everyone around him his intent to shoot Reagan, but contended Hinckley's inner fantasies controlled his actions.
He quoted Hinckley as telling a government psychiatrist that moments before the attack, he debated with himself, 'Should I do this or not?'
Hinckley has pleaded innocent by reason of insanity to a 13-count indictment. He faces life imprisonment if convicted of the most serious charges.
Prosecutors contend Hinckley acted in a premeditated fashion -- able to tell right from wrong -- when he collected an arsenal of weapons, practiced target shooting, traveled to Washington and staked out Reagan.
In early March, Hinckley moved to a Denver motel after his parents, on the advice of a psychiatrist, refused to let him come home. Prosecutor Roger Adelman said an employee at the motel remembers a pleasant young man who played with her children.
On March 26, Hinckley boarded a bus in Los Angeles for Washington, sitting with a minister most of the way who told investigators Hinckley was 'solemn' and brooding, but did not seem depressed, Carpenter said.
'From all of my sources of information, Hinckley wasn't acting in a bizarre manner that would be evident to other people,' Carpenter said.
On the day of the shooting attack, Carpenter said, Hinckley did not make a conscious decision to shoot, but 'found himself in the impulse of the moment firing at President Reagan.'
'He told me he aimed the gun, intending to fire at President Reagan -- and he may or may not have diverted it at the last moment,' said Carpenter.
'I'm not trying to make a case that he wasn't trying to shoot the president,' Carpenter said, agreeing with Adelman that Hinckley stood in a crouch position and emptied his gun.