When former Reagan press secretary James Brady died this week, the man who shot him was enjoying an unprecedented level of freedom from the mental institution where’s he’s spent most of the past three decades.
Would-be presidential assassin John Hinckley has won the right to take eight 17-day trips to his mother’s house, drive by himself and take two-hour-long hikes alone around a Williamsburg, Virginia, subdivision, according to the most recent court order in his case.
The freedoms are part of a plan for his gradual release from St. Elizabeths Hospital in Washington, which was approved by U.S. District Judge Paul Friedman in February.
In an earlier opinion, Judge Friedman noted that Mr. Hinckley had been doing volunteer work in the library and cafeteria of a Virginia psychiatric hospital not as a patient but as a volunteer-employee.
Twice Mr. Hinckley lied about what he was doing during unsupervised outings — when he was supposed to be seeing a movie but instead went to a fast-food restaurant and chain bookstore. At the time, he was under surveillance by the Secret Service.
Mr. Hinckley was found not guilty by reason of insanity in the 1981 shooting of President Reagan and the wounding of three others, including Mr. Brady, who became paralyzed.
In comments that were widely reported after his death, Mr. Brady told CBS 25 years after the shooting that Mr. Hinckley “scares me” but that he has tried not to be bitter.
“Well, it’s not classy to be bitter, and I try to be classy, as you know,” Mr. Brady said.
Even in 2006, Mr. Hinckley was getting overnight visits to his parents’ house lasting three or four days at a time. Mr. Brady’s wife, Sarah, said she didn’t think Mr. Hinckley would be dangerous but that the sight of him at a restaurant would cause “another intrusion into our lives.”
In his latest ruling, Judge Friedman said he’d consider another request from the hospital to give Mr. Hinckley more freedom if he successfully completes eight 17-day visits to his mother’s house.
The ruling also says Mr. Hinckley can drive unaccompanied as long as he’s on his way to a destination where people are expecting him.
During unsupervised outings, he’s barred from going near government centers in the Richmond area or anywhere that the president or members of Congress may be visiting. Mr. Hinckley is also required to complete a daily log of his activities.