By the associated press
A federal judge said Monday that John Hinckley Jr., who attempted to assassinate President Ronald Reagan four decades ago, could be released from all remaining restrictions next year if he continues to follow those rules and stays mentally stable.
U.S. District Court Judge Paul L. Friedman in Washington said in a 90-minute hearing that he would render his decision on the plan this week.
Since Hinckley moved to Williamsburg, Va. From a Washington hospital in 2016, court restrictions have forced doctors and therapists to oversee his psychiatric medication and therapy. Hinckley was banned from having a gun. And he can’t contact Reagan’s children, other victims or their families, or actress Jodie Foster, whom he was obsessed with during the 1981 shooting.
Friedman said Hinckley, now 66, had no symptoms of active mental illness, violent behavior and no interest in guns since 1983.
“If he hadn’t tried to kill the president, he would have been released unconditionally a long, long, long time ago,” the judge said. “But everyone is comfortable now after all the studies, all the analyzes, all the interviews and all the experiences with Mr. Hinckley.”
Friedman said the plan was to release Hinckley from judicial scrutiny in June.
A 2020 violence risk assessment conducted on behalf of the Washington Department of Behavioral Health concluded that Hinckley would not pose a danger if released unconditionally.
The US government had previously opposed the removal of restrictions. But he recently hired an independent expert to examine Hinckley and took a different stance on Monday, with lawyers saying they would agree to unconditional release if Hinckley abides by the rules and shows mental stability for the next nine months.
Kacie Weston, a U.S. government attorney, has said he wants to make sure Hinckley can adjust to life on her own for the first time in 40 years.
He recently moved from his mother’s house, which sits alongside a golf course in a gated community in Williamsburg. She passed away in July. Lawyers have not said where Hinckley currently lives.
âSir. Hinckley has a history of withdrawal and isolation,â Weston said.
Another concern is the impending retirement of one of Hinckley’s therapists and the impending end of a therapy group, which provided a lot of support and social interaction. Weston said Hinckley would likely struggle to find a similar group in the future.
âAll we have to do is wait a few more months and see,â Weston said. âAnd we will have real, concrete data. We’ll have real-time information to see how Mr. Hinckley is adjusting.
Hinckley was 25 when he shot and wounded the 40th US President outside a Washington hotel. The shooting paralyzed Reagan’s press secretary James Brady, who died in 2014. It also injured Secret Service Agent Timothy McCarthy and Washington Police Officer Thomas Delahanty.
Hinckley did not attend Monday’s hearing. But Barry Levine, his lawyer, said Hinckley wanted to express his “sincere” apologies and “deep regrets” to the people he shot and their families as well as to Foster and the American people.
âMaybe it’s too much to ask for forgiveness,â Levine said. “But we hope they understand that the acts that caused him to do this terrible thing (were caused by) mental illness.”
Hinckley suffered from an acute psychosis. When jurors found him not guilty by reason of insanity, they said he needed treatment, not life imprisonment.
Such an acquittal meant that Hinckley could not be blamed or punished for what he had done, legal experts said. Hinckley was ordered to live at St. Elizabeths Hospital in Washington.
In the 2000s, Hinckley began visiting his parents’ home in Williamsburg. A 2016 court order granted him permission to live with his mother full time after experts said his mental illness had been in remission for decades.
Friedman, the judge, relaxed some of the restrictions Hinckley had placed over the years. For example, Hinckley was granted the right to publicly exhibit his works of art and was allowed to leave his mother’s house. But he is still forbidden to go to places where he knows there will be someone protected by the secret service.
Hinckley must give three days’ notice if he wants to travel more than 120 kilometers from his home. It must also reset passwords for computers, phones and online accounts such as emails.
In recent years, Hinckley has sold items from a stall at an antique mall he found at estate sales, flea markets, and consignment stores. He also shared his music on YouTube.
“I hope people see this as a victory for mental health,” Levine, Hinckley’s lawyer, said Monday. “That’s the real message here – that people who have been ravaged by mental illness, with the right support and access to treatment, can truly become productive members of society.”