John Hinckley, who shot Ronald Reagan, to be freed from oversight

A federal judge said that John Hinckley jnr, who tried to assassinate US president Ronald Reagan four decades ago, can be freed from all remaining restrictions next year if he continues to follow those rules and remains mentally stable.

US District Court Judge Paul L. Friedman in Washington said during a 90-minute court hearing on Monday that he’ll issue his ruling on the plan this week.

John Hinckley jnr, pictured in 2003, is set to be released from all court supervision.Credit:AP

Since Hinckley moved to Williamsburg, Virginia, from a Washington hospital in 2016, court-imposed restrictions have required doctors and therapists to oversee his psychiatric medication and therapy. Hinckley has been barred from having a gun. And he can’t contact Reagan’s children, other victims or their families, or actress Jodie Foster, who he was obsessed with at the time of the 1981 shooting.

Friedman said Hinckley, now 66, has displayed no symptoms of active mental illness, no violent behaviour and no interest in weapons since 1983.

“If he hadn’t tried to kill the president, he would have been unconditionally released a long, long, long time ago,” the judge said. “But everybody is comfortable now after all of the studies, all of the analysis and all of the interviews and all of the experience with Mr Hinckley.”

Friedman said the plan is to release Hinckley from all court supervision in June.

A 2020 violence risk assessment conducted on behalf of Washington’s Department of Behavioural Health concluded that Hinckley would not pose a danger if he’s unconditionally released.

The US government had previously opposed ending restrictions. But it recently retained an independent expert to examine Hinckley and took a different position on Monday, with attorneys saying they would agree to unconditional release if Hinckley follows the rules and shows mental stability for the next nine months.

James Brady, president Reagan’s press secretary, lies wounded on the footpath as Secret Service agents and police wrestle John Hinckley jnr to the ground after the shooting in 1981.Credit:AP

Kacie Weston, an attorney for the US government, said it wants to make sure Hinckley can adapt to living on his own for the first time in 40 years.

He recently moved out his mother’s house, which sits along a golf course in a gated community in Williamsburg. She died in July. Attorneys did not say where Hinckley is currently living.

“Mr Hinckley does have a history of turning inward, and toward isolation,” Weston said.

Another concern is the impending retirement of one of Hinckley’s therapists and the looming end to a therapy group, which has provided much support and social interaction. Weston said Hinckley will likely face challenges finding a similar group in the future.

“All we have to do is wait a few more months and see,” Weston said. “And we’ll have actual hard data. We’ll have information in real time to see how Mr Hinckley adapts.”

Hinckley was 25 when he shot and wounded the 40th US president outside a Washington hotel. The shooting paralysed Reagan 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 attorney, said Hinckley wanted to express his “heartfelt” apologies and “profound regret” to the people he shot and their families as well as to Foster and the American people.

Barry Levine, John Hinckley jnr’s lawyer, said his client had expressed “profound regret”.Credit:AP

“Perhaps it is too much to ask for forgiveness,” Levine said. “But we hope they have an understanding that the acts that caused him to do this terrible thing (were caused by) mental illness.”

Hinckley was suffering from acute psychosis. When jurors found him not guilty by reason of insanity, they said he needed treatment and not a lifetime in confinement.

Such an acquittal meant that Hinckley could not be blamed or punished for what he did, legal experts have said. Hinckley was ordered to live at St Elizabeths Hospital in Washington.

In the 2000s, Hinckley began making visits to 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, has loosened some of Hinckley’s restrictions over the years. For instance, Hinckley was granted the right to publicly display his artwork and allowed to move out of his mother’s house. But he’s still barred from travelling 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 kilometres from home. He also has to turn over passwords for computers, phones and online accounts such as email.

In recent years, Hinckley has sold items from a booth at an antique mall that he’s found at estate sales, flea markets and consignment shops. He’s also shared his music on YouTube.

“I would hope that people will see this as a victory for mental health,” Levine, Hinckley’s attorney, said. “That is the real message in this case – that people who have been ravaged by mental disease, with good support and access to treatment, can actually become productive members of society.”


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