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Would-be assassin Hinckley forever linked with Reagan

John W. Hinckley Jr. tried to assassinate Ronald Reagan 70 days into his presidency. Today, the now 49-year-old mental patient is allowed to leave the psychiatric hospital for unsupervised visits with his parents.
John Hinckley Jr., arrives at court for a hearing on his request to be allowed to have unsupervised visits with his parents in a Nov. 19, 2003, file photo. Brendan Smialowski / Reuters file
/ Source: The Associated Press

Seventy days into his presidency, Ronald Reagan was shot by John W. Hinckley Jr. in an attempt to impress a young actress.

Hinckley, 49, has been a patient at St. Elizabeths psychiatric hospital here since he was acquitted by reason of insanity in the shooting of Reagan and three others outside a Washington hotel in March 1981. Reagan was nearly killed, a Secret Service agent and a Washington, D.C., police officer were wounded and press secretary James Brady was permanently disabled.

The shooting was said to be an attempt by Hinckley to impress actress Jodie Foster.

At the time of the assassination attempt, Hinckley was a college dropout who moved from job to job and city to city. His parents said he had been under psychiatric care before the shooting.

Unsupervised visits granted
Late last year, Hinckley’s psychiatrists said he was no longer a threat, and Hinckley was granted six unsupervised visits in the Washington area with his elderly parents. The Reagan family and others strongly objected.

Until that Dec. 17 ruling, Hinckley had been allowed dozens of visits off hospital grounds, supervised by medical staff, and always under the watchful eye of Secret Service agents. He took trips to theaters, bowling alleys, beaches and bookstores.

The decision by U.S. District Judge Paul L. Friedman to grant the unsupervised visits drew a sharp rebuke from the Reagans.

Calling it an outrage, Reagan’s son, Michael, asked, “Can we trust two 80-year-old parents, if he gets off of his drugs, to do the right thing and get him back into a hospital where he belongs or stop him from hurting himself or hurting others?”

Outings limited to D.C. area
The judge did set some restrictions on the trips away from St. Elizabeths, such as limiting them to the Washington area. Hinckley had asked the judge to allow visits to his parents’ home in Williamsburg, Va., about three hours south of the capital.

Each of the unsupervised visits may last up to 12 hours. And if all goes well, Hinckley may be allowed two 32-hour overnight trips with his parents within 50 miles of Washington.

Government lawyers who fought Hinckley’s request insisted that he remained a threat. They said he had stopped reading and writing — two activities that helped professionals determine Hinckley’s mental health.

Even so, the Justice Department decided against an appeal of Friedman’s ruling.