(CN) — Nearly 35 years after attempting to assassinate then-President Ronald Reagan, John Hinckley Jr. can live full-time outside a mental hospital, a federal judge ruled Wednesday.
At the age of 25, Hinckley was diagnosed with acute psychosis and major depression when he shot and wounded Reagan on March 30, 1981, as the president left the Hilton Hotel in Washington, D.C., after addressing an AFL-CIO conference.
Hinckley’s six bullets severely wounded Reagan, his press secretary James Brady, a secret service agent and a police officer. Brady suffered permanent brain damage that killed him decades later in 2014.
As the case headed for trial, the world learned that Hinckley had been motivated by his obsession with the actress Jodie Foster and the film “Taxi Driver.” The would-be assassin identified with the film’s misanthropic cabbie Travis Bickle, who tried to kill a presidential candidate to impress a younger woman.
A jury found Hinckley not guilty by reason of insanity, and a court committed him to St. Elizabeths Hospital in Washington, D.C., where he has remained in psychiatric care.
Now 61, Hinckley survived suicide attempts during his first years under commitment, but his psychotic disorders have been in “full and sustained remission for well over 20 years, perhaps more than 27 years,” his 103-page release order states.
Two years after Reagan’s death in 2004, Hinckley started being allowed unsupervised visits to his parents’ home in Williamsburg, Va., trips he has taken more than 80 times.
U.S. District Judge Paul Friedman said that the psychiatric experts “now agree — unanimously — that Mr. Hinckley is clinically ready for full time convalescent leave and that, with certain conditions, he will not be a danger to himself and others.”
“Thousands of times every day, judges across this country attempt the difficult, daunting task of predicting with confidence what a human being may do in the future,” Friedman reflected in Wednesday’s ruling.
Under the terms of the leave, Hinckley must meet regularly with his mental health team, carry a GPS-enabled cell phone for one year, and abide by travel restrictions. He cannot speak to the press or use social media.
Hinckley’s attorney did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comment Wednesday.
In the wake of Hinckley’s acquittal, public outcry — goaded by then-Republican Sens. Strom Thurman and Dan Quayle — drove Congress to pass the Insanity Defense Reform Act of 1984, which created a stricter standard requiring a defendant’s inability to “appreciate the nature and quality or the wrongfulness of his acts.”
Psychiatrists and legal advocates prevented the insanity defense from being eliminated entirely to achieve the compromise bill.
No one who has attempted to assassinate a president has ever been released.
Like Republicans from decades ago, the party’s current presidential nominee Donald Trump drummed up rancor over the courtroom turn.
“By the way, David Hinckley should not have been freed,” Trump reportedly said at a Wednesday press conference, confusing the would-be assassin’s name.
The Gipper’s son, Michael Reagan, on the other hand, brought a message of forgiveness to Twitter.
“My father did more than say the Lord’s Prayer,” wrote Reagan, who is now president of his father’s foundation. “He lived it in forgiving John Hinckley Jr…Maybe we should do the same.”
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