WASHINGTON — A judge deciding whether President Ronald Reagan’s would-be assassin can live full-time outside a mental hospital said Tuesday that it’s a “very hard decision,” but one he knew he would have to make eventually when he “opened the door a crack” for John Hinckley Jr. a dozen years ago.
“I knew this day would come. How could it not? That doesn’t make the decision any easier,” Judge Paul L. Friedman said at the end of a seven-day hearing on Hinckley’s freedom.
Friedman has incrementally expanded Hinckley’s freedom since ruling in 2003 that he could leave St. Elizabeth’s hospital for daylong visits with his family. Hinckley now spends 17 days a month at his mother’s home in Williamsburg, Virginia, and the hospital and his lawyers say he’s ready to live there full-time. The government wants more restrictions, to ensure Hinckley won’t be a danger.
The judge seems to be preparing to allow Hinckley to live full-time with his 89-year-old mother, as long as he abides by certain restrictions. He asked both sides to draft a roadmap for what that might look like, working together on a document that lays out the restrictions they can agree on as well as where they disagree.
There are many points of agreement, the judge noted. Both sides agree Hinckley, who turns 60 this month, must continue to see a psychiatrist and therapist. They also agree he should make at least monthly visits to St. Elizabeth’s, where he has lived since being found not guilty by reason of insanity in the 1981 shooting that injured Reagan and three others. They agree there should be certain restrictions on his travel.
But prosecutors also want more stringent conditions, including requiring Hinckley to create a weekly itinerary saying where he will go and putting a GPS tracking device on the car he uses. They also want Hinckley to start wearing a monitoring bracelet on his ankle, a condition the judge suggested he would not agree to.
Prosecutor Colleen Kennedy said the proposal made by St. Elizabeth’s and Hinckley’s lawyers is “not a safe plan.”
“There is too much of a risk to the community,” she said.
Barry Levine, Hinckley’s long-time attorney, called the government’s proposal “punitive,” and told the judge the law requires that Hinckley be allowed to live under least restrictive conditions that ensure the public’s safety.
The mental illness that drove Hinckley to shoot Reagan in a delusional effort to impress actress Jodie Foster has been in full and sustained remission for years, Levine has said. He said Hinckley has shown he is a “law-abiding citizen” and not dangerous, and he accused the government of “fear-mongering.”
Deon Merene, the hospital’s deputy general counsel, told the judge that Hinckley has recovered his sanity. There “will always be some risk,” but Hinckley poses a “low risk of danger at this time,” she said.
The judge has not indicated when he will issue a written ruling, but near the end of the hearing, he said “I won’t be seeing you for a while, Mr. Hinckley.”
“Correct,” Hinckley answered.
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