Lawyers to urge no restrictions for Reagan shooter Hinckley

Lawyers for the man who tried to assassinate President Ronald Reagan are scheduled to argue in court that 66-year-old John Hinckley should be freed from restrictions placed on him after he moved out of a Washington hospital

Via AP news wire
Saturday 25 September 2021 13:51 BST
John Hinckley Jr.
John Hinckley Jr. (A200520052005)

Lawyers for John Hinckley Jr., the man who tried to assassinate President Ronald Reagan are scheduled to argue in court Monday that the 66-year-old should be freed from restrictions placed on him after he moved out of a Washington hospital in 2016.

Since Hinckley's move to Williamsburg, Virginia, a federal judge has made him live under various conditions that dictate much of his life. For instance, doctors and therapists must oversee his psychiatric medication and decide how often he attends individual and group therapy sessions.

Hinckley has monthly appointments — now virtual — with Washington's Department of Behavioral Health, which files progress notes with a federal court. And he must give three days' notice if he wants to travel more than 75 miles (120 kilometers) from home.

Hinckley also has to turn over passwords for computers, phones and online accounts such as email. He can't have a gun. And he can't contact Reagan's children, other victims or their families or actress Jodie Foster —- with whom he was obsessed with at the time of the 1981 shooting.

Hinckley's attorney, Barry Levine, has said that Hinckley should get what's called “unconditional release” because he no longer poses a threat.

“He has adhered to every requirement of law,” Levine told The Associated Press last month. “And based on the views of a variety of mental health professionals ... he no longer suffers from a mental disease, and he hasn’t suffered from a mental disease for decades.”

A status conference is scheduled for Monday before U.S. District Judge Paul L. Friedman in Washington.

In a May court filing, the U.S. government had said it opposed ending the restrictions. It also retained an expert to examine Hinckley and determine "whether or not he would pose a danger to himself or others if unconditionally released.”

Findings from such an examination have not been filed in court. But a 2020 “violence risk assessment” conducted on behalf of Washington's Department of Behavioral Health said Hinckley would not pose a danger.

Timothy McCarthy, a Secret Service agent who was shot during the assassination attempt, told the AP that he doesn't “have a lot of good Christian thoughts" about Hinckley.

“But in any case, I hope they're right,” McCarthy, 72, said of mental health professionals and the court. “Because the actions of this man could have changed the course of history.”

Hinckley was 25 when he shot and wounded the 40th U.S. president outside a Washington hotel. The shooting paralyzed Reagan press secretary James Brady who died in 2014. It also injured McCarthy and Washington police officer Thomas Delahanty.

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. He was ordered to live at St. Elizabeths Hospital in Washington.

In the 2000s, Hinckley began making visits to his parents’ home in a gated Williamsburg community. A 2016 court order granted him permission to live with his mom full-time, albeit under various restrictions, after experts said his mental illness had been in remission for decades.

Stephen J. Morse, a University of Pennsylvania professor of law and psychiatry, said Hinckley’s acquittal by reason of insanity means “he is not to blame for those terrible things that happened and he cannot be punished.”

Decades of legal precedent are on Hinckley's side when it comes to lifting restrictions, Morse said. Most people in Hinckley's situation are released from a psychiatric hospital if they're no longer considered mentally ill or dangerous, he said. And if they follow court-ordered rules, unconditional release virtually always follows after a period of time.

“People tend to age out of dangerousness, even people with terrible records, by their early 40s,” Morse said. “If he hadn’t attempted to kill President Reagan, this guy would have been released ages ago.”

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 shared his music on YouTube and had been in a relationship with a woman he met in group therapy.

Friedman, the federal judge, has also loosened Hinckley's restrictions from about 30 conditions in 2018 to 17 conditions last year. For instance, Hinckley was granted the right to publicly display his artwork and allowed to move out of his mother's house. But he still can’t travel to places where he knows there will be someone who is protected by the Secret Service.

Hinckley's mother died in July. By then he had already moved out, according to his attorney. Levine did not say where Hinckley now lives, but he would have been required to inform his treatment team of where he was moving.

Hinckley's 2020 risk assessment said he planned to stay in the Williamsburg area after his mother's death and that his brother Scott expressed interest in living with him.

Last year's risk assessment recommended that he be considered for unconditional release. The report said there's no indication he's sought access to weapons. And it said he's unlikely to reach out to people he's been barred from contacting. He hasn't tried to contact Foster, the actress, since the 1980s, the report said.

Hinckley is quoted as saying that he’d continue to take his psychiatric medication and attend group therapy.

“Not a whole lot would change,” Hinckley said.

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