- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 19, 2003

John W. Hinckley Jr. apparently has improved considerably since his days of stalking actress Jodie Foster.

He is well enough to work in the library at St. Elizabeths Hospital or take walks on the hospital grounds, befriending the stray cats. He sometimes leaves the premises to go bowling or shopping or whatever, although always with hospital supervision and a small team of Secret Service agents in close proximity.

This is wonderful news. It really is.

All sorts of mental health experts attest to Hinckley’s increasing stability, as one doctor testified in U.S. District Court this week. To hear them tell it, he really is almost one of us. He was a nut case at one time. This is true. This is undeniable.

But now, after all his years of hard work, he is ready to go on unsupervised visits to his parents’ home in Williamsburg. His parents are getting along in years, and like any loving parents, they just want to spend some quality time with their son before it is too late. You can understand their point of view.

Their son’s life did not turn out too well, to say the least. He had a number of issues, as those with an antiseptic bent might put it, and things got a little crazy outside the Washington Hilton Hotel in 1981.

But that was then, and this is now, and now things are looking better all the time, as long as he takes his small dose of medication each day.

This spin is almost heartwarming, almost uplifting.

One doctor says, “He’s in total remission.”

The effect of the redundancy is all too clear. Hinckley is in “total remission,” as opposed to a garden-variety state of remission.

The doctor also says, “He would not be dangerous.”

This is hardly the point, even if the point is conceded.

This is how the game is played today. The hard facts come to lose their power with time.

The hard facts are as follows: In a bizarre attempt to win the approval of Miss Foster, Hinckley tried to kill President Reagan.

Who can forget the awful sight of a wounded Mr. Reagan being shoved into a limousine before being whisked away to George Washington University Hospital?

Hinckley also shot Press Secretary James T. Brady, Secret Service Agent Timothy J. McCarthy and Metropolitan Police Officer Thomas K. Delahanty before being subdued.

Mr. Brady, of course, was never the same after the shooting. His has been a lifetime of pain, therapy and dealing with the effects of permanent brain damage. He can’t have that moment back, as much as he would like. He can’t have the last 22-plus years of his diminished life back either.

It is perverse, is what it is.

Here is the perpetrator of a heinous crime making remarkable progress, looking to have pieces of his life back, while one of his victims lacks the capacity to do the same, stripped of it forever.

The mental health experts are left with an empty contention, insisting that Hinckley no longer is interested in securing the attention of Miss Foster and that it is a wonderful day in the hospital’s neighborhood, as if this somehow whitewashes the past.

The hearing is being played out against the conviction of John Allen Muhammad, the whacked-out plotter behind the sniper shootings that horrified the Washington region last year.

Muhammad also is a nut case who, with time, possibly could be helped to see the error of his evil ways.

Yet if his end works out the way it should, as the relatives of the victims want, the anticapital punishment zealots will be lighting a candle in his honor on his last night in good health.

Hinckley has beaten the system, in a way, earning a stunning number of privileges as the years have passed.

It is just so nice to know that he is well enough to go bowling for freedom, which is celebrated by a line of mental health experts stretching from the city to the outer reaches of the suburbs.

Hinckley possibly has a fairly respectable bowling average by now.

He certainly has had the time to develop into a competent bowler.

It is crazy, all right.

You shoot the president, you go bowling, and then maybe one day you are riding down the interstate to go to Busch Gardens.

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