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John Hinckley, Reagan’s shooter, is ordered to be freed

The Washington Post

WASHINGTON — John W. Hinckley Jr., will be released from a government psychiatric hospital, more than 35 years after he attempted to assassinate President Ronald Reagan and shot three others outside the Washington Hilton, a federal judge ruled yesterday.

Hinckley, 61, no longer poses a danger to himself or others and will be freed to live full time with his mother in Williamsburg, Virginia, effective as soon as Aug. 5, subject to dozens of temporary treatment and monitoring conditions, U.S. District Judge Paul L. Friedman wrote.

If Hinckley adheres to all restrictions, they could begin to be phased out after 12 to 18 months, removing him from court control for the first time since he was confined to St. Elizabeth’s Hospital after the March 30, 1981, shooting, according to the order.

Hinckley lived at the hospital full time until the 1990s, when he was permitted supervised visits with family members that gradually have been extended to 17 days a month at the home of his 90-year-old mother, in a gated golf course development.

“After thirty-four years as an inpatient at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital, and in view of the foregoing findings, and the successful completion of over 80 . . . visits to Williamsburg over the last 10 years, the Court finds that Mr. Hinckley has received the maximum benefits possible in the inpatient setting,” Friedman wrote in a 103-page opinion. “The court finds by the preponderance of the evidence that Mr. Hinckley will not be a danger to himself or to others if released on full-time convalescent leave to Williamsburg under the conditions proposed.”

If Hinckley relapses or violates the terms of his release, he could be returned to St. Elizabeth’s, the judge ordered.

The order limits Hinckley to a 50-mile radius of Williamsburg, requires him to turn over information about his mobile phone and vehicles he will be driving, and bars him from tampering with the browser history of his computer, uploading any content to the internet, or accessing social media without unanimous approval of his treatment team. It does not order him to wear an ankle-monitoring device.

The ruling ends the institutionalization of the one of the nation’s most notorious mental health patients, whose case marked a watershed in the criminal justice system’s handling of mental illness and gun violence. His case came at a crossroads of presidential history, violence and celebrity, with extraordinary footage of the attack on the 40th president beamed into the homes of Americans in television news accounts.

Hinckley was 25 when he wounded Reagan, press secretary James Brady, Secret Service agent Tim McCarthy and D.C. police officer Thomas Delahanty with six exploding “Devastator” bullets from a .22-caliber pistol. All survived, but Brady was left paralyzed by a shot to his head and spent years before his death in 2014 advocating for gun control.

Hinckley said he shot Reagan to try to impress Hollywood actor Jodie Foster, an object of his obsession after repeated viewing the film, “Taxi Driver.”

After an eight-week trial, a federal jury in Washington found Hinckley not guilty by reason of insanity in June 1982 of all 13-counts against him, setting off a sharp public backlash. The federal government and 38 states subsequently rewrote laws to raise the standard of proof required for the insanity defense, which is now rarely used and is even more rarely successful.


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