- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 18, 2003

Former President Ronald Reagan’s son Michael, denouncing as “an outrage” a federal judge’s decision to allow John W. Hinckley Jr. unsupervised visits with his parents, questioned yesterday whether the Hinckleys would be able to prevent their son from harming himself or others.

“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?” Michael Reagan asked on ABC-TV’s “Good Morning America.”

The former president’s family has reacted with dismay to U.S. District Judge Paul L. Friedman’s decision Wednesday that the man who tried to assassinate President Reagan can have six visits with his parents in the Washington area without staff from the mental hospital, where he has lived for more than two decades.

“They’re saying, ‘He’s fine, he’s on his meds,’” Michael Reagan said. “He gets off his meds, does that mean everybody has to duck?”

He said that Hinckley has never apologized to the victims or to the families of the people he wounded. Michael Reagan noted that his father has Alzheimer’s disease and is being cared for at home in California. Former first lady Nancy Reagan, Michael Reagan said, has “enough to deal with” without knowing “that the man who shot her husband is now going to be free to roam.”

Mrs. Reagan has issued a statement saying she believes Hinckley still poses a danger to the public.

Judge Friedman, who was appointed by President Clinton in 1994, placed a number of strict conditions on Hinckley’s visits and rejected Hinckley’s request to travel to his parents’ home in Williamsburg, about three hours south of Washington. The judge said a detailed schedule must be submitted to him two weeks before each unsupervised visit.

Each of the unsupervised visits can last 12 hours. If they go well, he and his parents may be allowed two 32-hour overnight visits within 50 miles of the capital.

“Just to have him out and to have him be free is an outrage,” Michael Reagan said in another interview, on CBS-TV’s “The Early Show.”

While government lawyers fought Hinckley’s request, U.S. Attorney Roscoe C. Howard Jr. took some solace in Judge Friedman’s rejection of any visits outside the Washington area.

“In light of the evidence, we believe the court properly denied Mr. Hinckley’s request for overnight and day visits to his parents’ home,” he said. “Our concern, among others, has always been whether Mr. Hinckley will endanger himself or others if granted an unescorted release.”

The Justice Department indicated it was reviewing the order to decide whether to appeal.

Hinckley, 48, has lived at St. Elizabeths Hospital in Southeast since 1982, when he was acquitted by reason of insanity in the shootings of Mr. Reagan, presidential Press Secretary James Brady and two law-enforcement officers. Mr. Reagan was nearly killed, and Mr. Brady was permanently disabled. Hinckley said he shot Mr. Reagan to impress actress Jodie Foster.

Mrs. Reagan said she and her family were disappointed by the ruling.

“Although the judge limited Mr. Hinckley’s travel to the Washington, D.C., area, we continue to fear for the safety of the general public,” she said in a statement. “Our thoughts are with all of Mr. Hinckley’s victims today, especially Jim Brady and his family, as they must continue to live with the tragic consequences of the assassination attempt.”

Hinckley has been allowed supervised visits off the hospital grounds for several years and has made about 200 such trips to theaters, bowling alleys, beaches and bookstores.

Hospital officials have said there have been no problems with Hinckley on his supervised trips away from the hospital. The Secret Service watches Hinckley whenever he leaves the hospital.

Hinckley’s attorney, Barry W. Levine, said his client is entitled under the law to receive unsupervised visits, and the judge’s conditions should allay any concerns about public safety.

“The rule of law applies equally to Mr. Hinckley as to everyone else,” Mr. Levine said. “An opposition based on fear or an opposition based on a need for revenge or a sense of bitterness is an opposition that is sadly but woefully misplaced.”

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