Reagan's Would-Be Assassin John Hinckley to Be Freed | NBC Bay Area
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Reagan's Would-Be Assassin John Hinckley to Be Freed

John Hinckley Jr. will live with his elderly mother in Williamsburg, Virginia

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    Thirty-five years after he tried to kill President Ronald Reagan, a judge has decided that John Hinckley Jr. can leave a mental hospital and live with his mother in Williamsburg, Virginia. News4's David Culver spoke with neighbors about the controversial release. (Published Wednesday, July 27, 2016)

    President Ronald Reagan's would-be assassin will live full-time outside a mental hospital for the first time in over 35 years, NBC News reports. 

    A federal judge on Wednesday granted John Hinckley Jr. permission to live with his elderly mother in Williamsburg, Virginia. 

    Hinckley, now 61, must live with his mother for at least the first full year, Judge Paul Friedman ruled. After that, he can live in a separate home alone or with roommates, provided that members of his treatment team approve.

    Friedman said he is confident Hinckley's family can continue to pay for Hinckley's treatment and care. Hinckley will be able to apply for government benefits once he becomes a resident of Virginia. 

    Hinckley's freedom has been incrementally expanded since 2003, when he began leaving St. Elizabeth's hospital for daylong visits with his family.

    Hinckley now spends 17 days a month at his mother's home.

    While outside the hospital, Hinckley has had to comply with a series of restrictions, and a number of those will continue now that he will be living full time in the community. He will have to attend individual and group therapy sessions and is barred from talking to the media. He can drive, but there are restrictions on how far he can travel. The Secret Service also periodically follows him.

    Prosecutors had consistently opposed Hinckley's efforts to gain more freedom, citing what they called a history of deceptive behavior. In July 2011, prosecutors said, Hinckley was supposed to go see a movie and instead went to a Barnes & Noble store, where Secret Service agents saw him looking at shelves that contained books about Reagan and the assassination attempt.

    But on Wednesday, Reagan's son Michael Reagan defended Hinckley's release, saying his father forgave Hinckley for the attack and others should do the same. 

    However, the foundation honoring Reagan's legacy says it "strongly opposes" Hinckley's release.

    The Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Institute issued a statement Wednesday that read, in part, "Contrary to the judge's decision, we believe John Hinckley is still a threat to others and we strongly oppose his release."

    Reagan's daughter Patti Davis agrees. In a statement published on her website Wednesday, Davis wrote that while she has forgiven her father's would-be assasin, she believes he should remain locked up.

    "I too believe in forgiveness. But forgiving someone in your heart doesn't mean that you let them loose in Virginia to pursue whatever dark agendas they may still hold dear," Davis said.

    Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump also called it a "mistake" to release Hinckley, whom he misidentified as "David Hinckley."

    A former Secret Service agent who took Hinckley into custody after Hinckley shot Reagan called his release disappointing.

    Danny Spriggs, who now works for The Associated Press, called the shooting the most "horrific incident" of his career. Spriggs said he believes Hinckley should remain under close scrutiny in a mental institution.

    Doctors have said for many years that Hinckley, who was found not guilty by reason of insanity for the shooting, is no longer impaired by mental illness. 

    Hinckley, then 25, shot Reagan on March 30, 1981 outside the Washington Hilton, northeast of Dupont Circle. He was trying to impress actress Jodie Foster, then 18, whom he stalked during her freshman year at Yale University.

    Reagan was hit in the chest and hospitalized for 12 days. Press Secretary James Brady and two others also were wounded in the shooting.

    Brady, who was shot in the head, died 33 years later of complications from the assassination attempt, but federal prosecutors decided not to press charges

    While living with his mother, Hinckley will be required to return to Washington once a month for doctors to check on his mental state and his compliance with the conditions of his leave, Friedman ruled. 

    He also will be barred from speaking to the media or from trying to contact Foster, all relatives of Reagan and Brady or the other two victims, police officer Thomas Delahanty and Secret Service agent Timothy McCarthy, and their families. 

    Hinckley's mother, Joann, is 90 years old. His father died in 2008. 

    Hinckley's attorney, Barry William Levine, released a statement Wednesday saying in part, "Mr. Hinckley recognizes that what he did was horrific. But it's crucial to understand that what he did was not an act of evil. It was an act caused by mental illness, an illness from which he no longer suffers. He is profoundly sorry for what he did 35 years ago and he wishes he could take back that day, but he can't. And he has lived for decades recognizing the pain he caused his victims, their families, and the nation."

    Levine said the court "decisively" found that Hinckley is not dangerous under the terms of convalescent leave.

    "This should give great comfort to a concerned citizenry that the mental health system and the judicial system worked and worked well," he said in the statement.

    William Miller, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office in Washington, said the office is reviewing the ruling and has no comment.