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John Hinckley, Who Shot President Reagan, Wins Unconditional Release

In November 2003, John Hinckley Jr. arrives at U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C. Starting in 2003, restrictions on Hinckley gradually lessened.
Evan Vucci
In November 2003, John Hinckley Jr. arrives at U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C. Starting in 2003, restrictions on Hinckley gradually lessened.

A federal judge has approved the unconditional release next year of John Hinckley Jr., who wounded President Ronald Reagan and three others outside a Washington, D.C., hotel in a failed assassination attempt in 1981.

Hinckley is now 66 years old and has been living outside a mental health facility for the past several years, a result of a gradual lightening of supervision. His lawyer said the "momentous event" of Hinckley's full release in June is both appropriate and required by the law.

"There is no evidence of danger whatsoever," Barry Wm. Levine said, adding that Hinckley has an "excellent" prognosis.

Prosecutor Kacie Weston said the Justice Department agreed to a settlement but wanted to monitor Hinckley for the next nine months because of two big changes in his life: He's living on his own for the first time in about 40 years, and because one of his primary doctors is preparing for retirement and disbanding Hinckley's therapy group. The Justice Department said it would file a motion with the court before June if it had fresh concerns about Hinckley.

"Ultimately your honor, at this point, the ball is in Mr. Hinckley's hands," Weston said.

Senior U.S. District Judge Paul Friedman pointed out that "very few patients at St. Elizabeths Hospital have been studied more thoroughly than John Hinckley."

In 1982, a jury found Hinckley not guilty by reason of insanity. He had been on trial for the shooting a year earlier of Reagan, White House press secretary James Brady, Secret Service agent Timothy McCarthy and Washington Metropolitan Police officer Thomas Delahanty.

After the verdict, Hinckley was committed to St. Elizabeths Hospital in Washington, where he resided for more than three decades. Starting in 2003, restrictions on Hinckley gradually lessened.

Five years ago, the court granted him convalescent leave to live full time in the community. Hinckley went to live with his mother in Williamsburg, Va. She died in her sleep this summer at age 95.

Last year, the Department of Behavioral Health proposed a release for Hinckley with no conditions, telling the court he posed "low risk for future violence." The department reiterated that proposal earlier this year.

Hinckley previously had been ordered to stay away from actress Jodie Foster, whom he said helped inspire his assassination attempt, as well as the families of Reagan and others wounded during the attack.

The court has allowed him to release artwork and music under his own name, and Hinckley created a YouTube channel, where he sings and plays guitar. He had been working in a Virginia antique mall before the coronavirus pandemic.

His attorney said Hinckley wanted to express apologies and "profound regret" to the families of his victims, Foster and the American people. He cast the eventual release as a "victory for mental health."

Levine, a longtime lawyer for Hinckley, said his client has followed the rules and the law for years.

"His mental disease is in full, stable and complete remission and has been so for over three decades," Levine said.

The Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation And Institute, however, said in a statement that it thinks Hinckley is still a threat and it strongly opposes his release.

"Our hope is that the Justice Department will file a motion with the court leading to a reversal of this decision," the release said.

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Carrie Johnson is a justice correspondent for the Washington Desk.