43° Good Morning
43° Good Morning

John Hinckley, who mostly lives with mom, may spend more time on the outside

The last man to shoot an American president now spends most of the year in a house overlooking the 13th hole of a golf course in a gated community.

He likes taking walks, plays guitar and paints. He eats at Wendy's and drives a Toyota. Often, as if to avoid detection, he dons a hat or visor before going out.

John Hinckley Jr. was just 25 when he shot President Ronald Reagan and three others outside a Washington hotel in 1981. When jurors found him not guilty by reason of insanity, the verdict left open the possibility that he would one day live outside a mental hospital.

For the past year, under a judge's order, Hinckley has spent 17 days a month at his mother Jo Ann's home in Williamsburg, Virginia. Freedom has come in stages and with strict requirements, including meeting regularly in Williamsburg with a psychiatrist and a therapist as part of a process to reintegrate Hinckley, now nearing 60, into society.

More freedom possible

Court hearings are set to begin Wednesday on whether to expand Hinckley's time in Williamsburg further -- possibly permanently. That leaves some there wondering: Is he ready for life on the outside? And are they ready for him?

Real estate agent John Womeldorf always points out the street where Hinckley's 89-year-old mother lives if he's showing a house in the resort community. He said for most prospective buyers, "it's been a nonissue."

Not so for others. Cabot Wade, a musician who gave Hinckley guitar lessons, said he never felt Hinckley was violent or dangerous. Nevertheless, he said, "Nobody will touch him with a 10-foot pole."

In hearings before U.S. District Judge Paul L. Friedman, doctors have testified that Hinckley's psychosis and major depression have been in remission for decades and that, while he still has a narcissistic personality disorder, its effects are diminished.

For decades, Hinckley was confined to St. Elizabeths Hospital in the nation's capital. But the judge has gradually allowed him freedom in stages, beginning with day outings, since 2003. In Wednesday's hearing, the hospital and Hinckley lawyer Barry Levine are expected to call for even more freedom.

Prosecutors, however, consistently have opposed Hinckley's release, arguing he has a history of deceptive behavior and troubling relationships with women. In past hearings, they cited a 2011 incident in which he went to a bookstore instead of a movie and then lied about it. The Secret Service, whose agents occasionally tail Hinckley, reported he looked at shelves that contained books on Reagan and the assassination attempt, though he didn't pick anything up.

Hinckley's time in Williamsburg is highly scripted. He volunteers and drives alone, but only to places where "people will be expecting him." He must avoid "areas where the president or members of Congress may be visiting."

The aim is to help him rebuild some semblance of a normal life: to hold a job, make friends. But progress has been hampered by his notoriety.

Still a hesitancy by some

Several organizations turned him down for volunteer positions before the librarian at Eastern State Hospital, a facility for the mentally ill, agreed to take him. "Not everyone was real happy about it," Sandra Kochersperger said.

Hinckley was "very quiet" and "very sweet," she said. He made copies and shelved books.

"I think John's paid for what he did. He was in a totally different mind at that time. He was psychotic," said Kochersperger, who retired in 2013.

Some other residents are also accepting, but others are unwilling to forgive. Joe Mann, 73, a resident of the same gated community, said Hinckley should remain confined. "All it takes is one slip, one flip of whatever in the brain caused him to do what he did before," he said.

More news