Reagan Shooter John Hinckley Jr. Released From Mental Hospital

Jul 27, 2016
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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

The man who shot Ronald Reagan in 1981 is now set to go free.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DAN RATHER: President Reagan was the target of an assassination attempt outside the Washington Hilton hotel. The person arrested as a suspect in the shooting has been identified as John Hinckley Jr. of Evergreen, Colo.

MONTAGNE: And that was CBS anchor Dan Rather 35 years ago. Now, a federal judge has ruled John Hinckley can leave a mental institution to live with his elderly mother in Virginia. NPR justice correspondent Carrie Johnson has been following this case for years. And Carrie, remind us what happened that day.

CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: John Hinckley approached President Reagan outside the Washington Hilton hotel, Renee. He got off six shots. He hit President Reagan, who was wounded and lost a lot of blood. He also hit Reagan's press secretary James Brady in the head. Brady survived but lived the rest of his life in a wheelchair. And Hinckley also struck a secret service officer and a D.C. police officer. But the following year, a court found him not guilty by reason of insanity.

MONTAGNE: Right. Now, it emerged that he had an obsession with the teenage Jodie Foster because he'd seen her in the movie "Taxi Driver." He hoped assassinating the president would impress her. So in the end, John Hinckley ended up at St. Elizabeth's Hospital, which is a mental institution, for all these years.

JOHNSON: Yeah. For a lot of people, the news of his release may be coming out of the blue. But for the last decade or so, courts have gradually been allowing John Hinckley more freedom. As of now, he spends 17 days a month with his elderly mother in Williamsburg, Va. He's going to movies, playing guitar, volunteering at church.

And doctors at this mental hospital say his psychosis and depression are in full remission, have been for years. They say he no longer poses a threat to himself or others.

MONTAGNE: Yet, setting free someone who tried to assassinate a president...

JOHNSON: Yeah.

MONTAGNE: ...How can that be?

JOHNSON: It's controversial, Renee. The legal standard here though is someone who poses no danger to the community is entitled live under the least restrictive conditions possible. That's what senior U.S. District Judge Paul Friedman, here in D.C, has found. The judge says John Hinckley should have access to no weapons, no drugs or alcohol, no contact with his victims and no contact with the current president.

The judge says he knew he opened the door to this possibility over the years. This decision is still a hard one, though.

MONTAGNE: And the Justice Department has been fighting his release.

JOHNSON: Yeah. Federal prosecutors have been urging the court not to release Hinckley. But in recent years, they've more or less focused on conditions under which Hinckley can be monitored.

So they want to be able to monitor his location or his whereabouts via GPS. They want to monitor his email and internet usage. And they want to know where he is, generally speaking, at all times, to know he's not falling off the beaten path.

MONTAGNE: And what is John Hinckley - or his representatives - what are they saying about all of this?

JOHNSON: Well, Hinckley's lawyers and Hinckley himself have been fighting for years for this. They note his mother is in her 90s. And he now will be able to go home and live with his mother while she is still alive, which represents a major victory for them.

MONTAGNE: Carrie - NPR's justice correspondent Carrie Johnson. Carrie, thanks very much.

JOHNSON: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.