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John Hinckley to leave mental hospital to live at home

The man who once tried to assassinate President Ronald Reagan no longer poses a threat to himself or others, ruled a federal judge.

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    John Hinckley Jr. arrives at US District Court in Washington on Nov. 18, 2003. A judge says Hinckley, who attempted to assassinate President Ronald Reagan, will be allowed to leave a Washington mental hospital and live full-time in Virginia.
    Evan Vucci/AP/File
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John Hinckley Jr., whose attempt to assassinate President Ronald Reagan 35 years ago landed him in a Washington mental hospital, will be freed following a federal judge’s ruling that he no longer poses a threat to himself or to others.

In his ruling, Judge Paul Friedman granted full-time convalescent leave to Mr. Hinckley, finding that he was ready to leave Washington D.C.’s St. Elizabeth hospital and live with his mother in nearby Williamsburg, Va. The order takes effect on Aug. 5, though he will be required to meet with his psychiatrist in the capital at least once a month, as well as notify the Secret Service when he travels for the appointment.

Hinckley fired six bullets at President Ronald Reagan outside a Washington hotel on March 30, 1981, hitting Reagan as well as a policeman, a Secret Service agent, and press secretary James Brady, who was left partially paralyzed. As a result, The Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, often referred to as the Brady Act or the Brady Bill, was enacted on Nov. 30, 1993, mandating federal background checks on firearm purchasers in the United States, and imposing a five-day waiting period on purchases. 

Authorities later recovered a letter from Hinckley to actress Jodie Foster, whom he had stalked for years, begging her to “give me the chance, with this historical deed, to gain your respect and love.” Charged with assault with intent to kill and assault with a dangerous weapon, he was found not guilty for reason of insanity.

Doctors have long said that Hinckley no longer poses a serious danger, and in December 2003, Judge Friedman granted him permission to make day visits to his mother at her Virginia home. Those visits grew into extended stays. At the time of the judge’s latest ruling, Hinckley had a driver’s license, and was spending about half of every month at his parents’ home.

In 2011, The Christian Science Monitor noted that the hospital was seeking the authority to place Hinckley on convalescent leave for an indefinite period without court approval. But federal authorities had successfully raised doubts about the patient’s capacity for violence.

“One episode in particular troubles federal authorities, reminding them of the obsession Hinckley had with actor Jodie Foster,” the Monitor wrote at the time, citing a court document in which Justice Department officials said Hinckley had continued to be “deceptive regarding his relationship with and interest in women.”

In the document, then-US Attorney Ronald C. Machen Jr. wrote that in June 2009, Hinckley “searched the Internet for photographs of his female dentist,” adding that “when he was caught, Hinckley claimed, falsely, that the dentist had invited him to view her personal photographs.”

Ronald Reagan’s daughter, Patti Davis, has opposed the lifting of restrictions on Hinckley, telling NPR last year that the original not-guilty decision was a “bad verdict.”

“I hope the doctors are right when they say that John Hinckley isn’t a danger to anyone,” Ms. Davis wrote in the Daily Beast, “but something in me feels they are wrong.”

Hinckley’s hobbies include painting, photography, and playing the guitar. In court documents reviewed by the Associated Press, he has said he would like to “fit in” and be a “good citizen,” and indicated interest in getting a full-time job.

This report contains material from the Associated Press and Reuters.

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