News & Politics

John Hinckley May Go Free

After tomorrow’s hearing, the man who tried to assassinate President Reagan may gain eventual release from custody.

Illustration by Jack Unruh

Wednesday, November 30, could go down as Free John Hinckley Day.

When he appears in court this week, the man who attempted to assassinate President Ronald Reagan 30 years ago stands a very good chance of seeing his path out of custody accepted by a federal judge.

At 9:30 AM, in Courtroom 29A of the federal courthouse at Fourth and Constitution, Northwest, Hinckley’s attorney, Barry Levine, is scheduled to argue that Hinckley is no longer a danger to himself and others; therefore he should be allowed more freedom, leading to life beyond custody in a mental institution. Federal prosecutors will argue that he could be a threat and must be held in custody and that outside the walls of St. Elizabeth’s mental hospital he should be tightly monitored.

“For example,” prosecutors argue in opposing more leave, “Hinckley continues to be deceptive regarding his relationships with women.”

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Free John Hinckley

And: “Neither the government nor the Secret Service will be notified of Hinckley’s specific destination in advance, this precluding the Secret Service from conducting any surveillance of Hinckley.”

When a jury ruled in that same courthouse in June 1982 that Hinckley was not guilty by reason of insanity for attempting to kill Reagan, Judge Barrington Parker said he would be held at St. Elizabeth’s until he was judged no longer a danger. Hinckley has lived at St. Elizabeth’s for the past 30 years. His psychiatrists have testified for decades that the delusions that made him shoot at the president in order to impress actress Jodie Foster no longer control him.

If that’s the case, then under the law, he should be freed.

But more than law is in play with Hinckley. He attempted to kill Ronald Reagan, the president most Republicans see as a legendary leader for his conservative principles. Reagan’s family members, in particular his widow, Nancy, have a visceral reaction against granting Hinckley any freedom.

Hinckley, now 56, is already permitted to leave St. Elizabeth’s in the care of his mother for nearly a third of the year. He has a driver’s license and can take himself to her home outside of Williamsburg, Virginia.

Judge Paul Friedman started allowing Hinckley to be released a few days at a time in 2003, and he has gradually expanded the release periods to weeks at a time. After Wednesday’s evidentiary hearing, will Friedman allow the weeks to expand into months and then to full-time within a year?

Odds are better than even that the answer is yes, and John Hinckley will soon be free.

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