John Hinckley Jr. has spent years fighting to be fully freed from the mental hospital where has been held since being found not guilty by reason of insanity for shooting President Reagan and three other men.
Next week he will finally win his release — sort of.
U.S. District Judge Paul Friedman ruled Wednesday that the would-be assassin will be freed Aug. 5. from St. Elizabeths to live full-time with his mother in Virginia. But the order came with a laundry list of conditions and restrictions.
Friedman’s ruling was not a surprise, especially to those who have followed the saga of Hinckley’s life and the dozens of court hearings in recent years that delved into the minutiae of his mental well-being. Increasingly in recent years he has been granted many temporary unsupervised trips off the hospital’s grounds.
In ordering Hinckley’s release, Friedman wrote that the presidential assailant no longer posed a threat to himself or others and that his psychotic disorder and major depression have been in remission for more than 20 years. Hinckley has displayed “no symptoms of active mental illness, exhibited no violent behavior, shown no interest in weapons,” nor exhibited any signs of being suicidal, Friedman wrote.
Federal prosecutors, who have long battled Hinckley’s doctors and lawyers over his expanding privileges, said they were reviewing Friedman’s order and declined to comment.
Hinckley’s lawyer, Barry Levine, said he and his client were pleased with the decision.
“This has been a matter of mixed emotions for the family. John recognizes, and has long recognized, that what he did 35 years ago was horrific, and he is profoundly sorry for what he did,” Levine said. “He has worked hard with his mental health providers, and I believe the disease from which he suffered years and years and years ago no longer plagues him.”
Michael Reagan, a son of the former president, wrote on Twitter that his father had famously forgiven Hinckley and “maybe we should do the same.”
But Reagan’s daughter, Patti Davis, expressed some resignation, blogging that she was “not surprised by this latest development, but my heart is sickened.”
Much has changed since a deranged 25-year-old struggling musician, obsessed with a movie star, pulled out a gun on a dreary March 30 afternoon in 1981, and with six quick shots altered the trajectory of a presidency and the lives of those he wounded, including Reagan, White House Press Secretary Jim Brady, Secret Service Agent Tim McCarthy and D.C. police officer Thomas Delahanty.
Today Hinckley, 61, is “suffering from arthritis, high blood pressure, and various other physical ailments like many men his age,” Friedman wrote.
Over the past decade, Hinckley gradually won more freedom from St. Elizabeths, making about 80 unsupervised trips to see his 90-year-old mother in Williamsburg, Va. Since early 2014, the visits have lasted up to 17 days.
His days in Williamsburg have been spent meeting with therapists, volunteering at a mental hospital and helping landscape the grounds of a church. Hinckley has made a few friends and obtained a driver’s license, the judge wrote. But efforts to secure a full-time job have been complicated by resistance in the community, according to Friedman.
Wednesday’s ruling was set in motion in late 2014 when St. Elizabeths petitioned Friedman to allow Hinckley to live full-time with his mother and to shift oversight of his treatment to providers in Williamsburg. They said that extending visits by more days would provide few additional benefits and the next logical step in treatment was for him to live full-time in Williamsburg.
Federal prosecutors acknowledged in court papers that Hinckley was “clinically ready” to live in Williamsburg, but expressed concerns that the hospital had not fully addressed several issues, including his family’s financial stability and the possibility that his mental state could rapidly decline. The government asked Friedman to impose a lengthy set of restrictions on his release to ensure he did not again become violent.
Friedman heard both sides during a set of hearings that began in April 2015, and took more than a year to issue a 103-page opinion and 14-page order explaining his ruling and laying out more than two dozen conditions.
Among the judge’s restrictions, Hinckley must meet monthly with St. Elizabeths’ doctors in Washington and attend regular sessions with therapists and a psychiatrist in Williamsburg.
He may not publish any writings or photographs on the Internet without the approval of his doctors and cannot establish any social media accounts. He will be required to carry a GPS-enabled cellphone when he leaves his mother’s home and must decline all interview requests from the media.
Hinckley sought to kill Reagan after developing an obsession with the movie actress Jodie Foster and believing that assassinating a president would impress her. Friedman ruled that he is to have no contact with her, McCarthy or members of Reagan’s and Brady’s families.
For the next year, Hinckley will reside with his mother; if things go well, the judge wrote, he may obtain permission to live on his own.
In a year to 18 months, the hospital is required to conduct a risk assessment that could result in reducing the restrictions or removing him from court supervision.
The order comes as several of the major players in that day’s drama have recently died. First Lady Nancy Reagan passed away in March; Brady and his wife, Sarah, as well as Jerry Parr, the Secret Service agent credited with saving Reagan’s life, have all died in the last two years.
FROM THE ARCHIVES
2:05 p.m.: This story was updated with more reaction and background.
7:45 a.m.: This story was updated with staff reporting.
This story was originally published at 6:40 a.m.