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John Hinckley Jr., Attempted Reagan Assassin, to Be Freed After 35 Years

Judge rules that Hinckley Jr. – who shot Ronald Reagan, three others in March 1981 – “will not be a danger to himself or others”

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John W. Hinckley Jr., who tried to assassinate Ronald Reagan in 1981, will be released from a government psychiatric hospital.

Barry Thumma/AP

Thirty-five years after attempting to assassinate then-President Ronald Reagan and shooting three others, John W. Hinckley Jr. will be freed from a government psychiatric hospital, The Washington Post reports.

U.S. District Judge Paul L. Friedman of Washington ruled Wednesday that Hinckley, 61, be released as soon as August 5th from St. Elizabeth’s in Washington D.C., where he’s been in treatment since his acquittal. The shooting took place March 30th, 1981 outside the Washington Hilton.

Hinckley will live full-time in Williamsburg, Virginia with his 90-year-old mother. He must adhere to a series of strict treatment and monitoring restrictions that, if followed, could be phased out after 12 to 18 months.

Hinckley has lived at St. Elizabeth’s full-time since the 1990s, when he was granted supervised visits with family. Since 2013, he’s been allowed partial leave from the hospital and has been spending 17 days per month at his mother’s home, CBS News reports.

“After thirty-four years as an impatient at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital, and in view of the foregoing findings, and the successful completion of over 80 … visits to Williamsburg over the last 10 years, the Court finds that Mr. Hinckley has received the maximum benefits possible in the in-patient setting,” wrote Judge Friedman. 

Friedman ruled that Hinckley “will not be a danger to himself or others” under the proposed conditions, which limit him to a 50-mile radius of Williamsburg, require him to submit information about his cell phone and vehicles and forbid him from accessing social media, uploading content or erasing his computer browser history.

Hinckley, who was 25 at time of the shooting, fired six bullets outside the Washington Hilton as Reagan was leaving the premises after a speech. One bullet punctured the president’s lung, barely missing his heart; another struck White House press secretary James Brady in the head, paralyzing him from the waist down. Secret Service agent Tim McCarthy and D.C. police officer Thomas Delahanty were also wounded.

After Brady’s death in 2014 – which the coroner ruled a homicide, citing injuries sustained from the shooting – no additional charges were brought against Hinckley.

In a letter sent before the attack, Hinckley confessed that his motive was to impress actress Jodie Foster, whom he’d been stalking after watching her in Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver. “This letter is being written only an hour before I leave for the Hilton Hotel,” he wrote. “Jodie, I’m asking you to please look into your heart and at least give the chance, with this historical deed, to gain your love and respect.”

In June 1982, after an eight-week trial, Hinckley was found not guilty by reason of insanity – a ruling that earned widespread criticism.

As The Washington Post reports, Hinckley and his family are barred from speaking to reporters. Hinckley’s attorney, Barry Wm. Levine, said, “Mr. Hinckley recognizes that what he did was horrific. But it’s crucial to understand that what he did was not an act of evil. It was an act caused by mental illness.” He added that his client’s release “should give great comfort to a concerned citizenry that the mental health system and the judicial system worked and worked well.” 

In This Article: Ronald Reagan

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