WASHINGTON, DC (CBS4/AP) – The man who tried to assassinate President Ronald Reagan in 1981 has been granted full time release from a hospital.
John Hinckley Jr. has been in treatment since the shooting at a mental hospital in Washington, D.C. He shot Reagan in an effort to impress actress Jodie Foster.
Hinckley Jr., 61, was found not guilty by reason of insanity in the shooting. Doctors have said for many years that he is no longer plagued by the mental illness that drove him to shoot the president.
Three others were wounded in the March 30, 1981, shooting outside a Washington hotel, including Reagan’s press secretary, James Brady, who suffered debilitating injuries and died in 2014. His death was later ruled a homicide, but prosecutors said they would not charge Hinckley with murder, in part because they would be barred from arguing he was sane at the time of the shooting.
The shooting endangered Reagan’s life, but he recovered after undergoing emergency surgery. He died in 2004 at age 93.
Hinckley Jr. has ties to Evergreen, Colorado. His family moved there after he graduated from high school in 1973.
The judge, in the 14-page ruling and accompanying 103-page opinion, says the hospital has an obligation to move patients to out patient care when they are ready.
“Mr. Hinckley, by all accounts, has shown no signs of psychotic symptoms, delusional thinking, or any violent tendencies,” the judge wrote in his opinion. “The court finds that Mr. Hinckley has received the maximum benefits possible in the inpatient setting (and) that inpatient treatment is no longer clinically warranted or beneficial.”
Hinckley will be allowed to live with his mother in Virginia starting no sooner than Aug. 5.
From the mental hospital, he wrote two letters in response to correspondence from CBS4 Investigator Rick Sallinger.
In 1982 he stated, “I’ve got a feeling I’ll be out of here sooner than everybody thinks.”
“When I get out I want to be an astronaut or a psychiatrist. Possibly a Denver Bronco.”
He also stated that he might wash dishes or sell autographs.
The thought of a man who shot the president being considered to go free may surprise people but in a previous interview, CBS4 Legal Analyst Karen Steinhauser said it shouldn’t be.
“There is no such thing that I am aware of that not guilty by reason of insanity means that person will be in a facility for the rest of their life,” said Steinhauser.
Another letter dated November 1984 began, “Dear Mr. Sallinger.”
In it he complained he was unable to vote, adding “I’m a political prisoner.”
He said all he wanted was a quiet life with his loved one but noted, “As a presidential assailant I will forever be seen as an enemy and outcast to the American people.”
Hinckley’s release from Washington’s St. Elizabeths hospital has been more than a decade in the making. In late 2003, the judge allowed Hinckley to begin leaving the hospital for day visits with his parents in the Washington area.
In 2006, Hinckley began visiting his parents’ home in Williamsburg, Virginia, for three-night stretches. That time has increased over the years so that for the past two-plus years he has been allowed to spend 17 days a month at the house overlooking a golf course in a gated community.
While outside the hospital, Hinckley has had to comply with a series of restrictions, and some of those will continue now that he will be living full time in the community. He must attend individual and group therapy sessions and is barred from talking to the media. He can drive, but there are restrictions on how far he can travel. The Secret Service also periodically follows him.
Despite the restrictions, life in Williamsburg will likely be busy for Hinckley. The judge ordered him to volunteer or work at a paid job at least three days a week. He has sought out work and volunteer opportunities, but so far has been unable to secure employment. According to court records, he has said it was difficult for him to ask for jobs at Starbucks and Subway while being followed by the Secret Service: “It made me feel awkward and uncomfortable.”
According to court records and testimony at a hearing on the issue of his release, he has spent time volunteering at a church as well as a local mental hospital. He has attended meetings for people living with mental illness, talks at a local art museum and concerts. In addition to painting and guitar, he has recently developed an interest in photography.
“I don’t like flipping around the TV, I want to do things,” a court document quoted him saying.
He also has said he wants to “fit in” and be “a good citizen.”
Hinckley must return to Washington once a month for doctors to check on his mental state and his compliance with the conditions of his leave, the judge ruled.
He also will be barred from trying to contact Foster, all relatives of Reagan and Brady or the other two victims, police officer Thomas Delahanty and Secret Service agent Timothy McCarthy, and their families.
He will have to live with his mother for a year. After that, he will have the freedom to live on his own, with roommates or in a group home in the Williamsburg area. If his 90-year-old mother, Joann, is unable to monitor him, his brother or sister have agreed to stay with him until other arrangements are made. Hinckley’s father died in 2008.
Associated Press writers Ben Nuckols, Sarah Brumfield, Jessica Gresko and Alanna Durkin Richer contributed to this report.
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