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The Man Who Tried To Kill Reagan Walks Free — With Conditions

John Hinckley Jr. arriving at U.S. District Court in Washington in 2003.
Evan Vucci
John Hinckley Jr. arriving at U.S. District Court in Washington in 2003.

The man who attempted to assassinate President Ronald Reagan 35 years ago is now free.

John Hinckley Jr. has arrived "at his mother's Virginia home after being freed for good" from a mental hospital where he's lived for decades, The Associated Press reported. A federal judge granted his request for convalescent leave in July.

"On March 30, 1981, outside the Washington Hilton Hotel, a shaggy-haired Hinckley aimed his gun at President Ronald Reagan and fired six times," as NPR's Carrie Johnson reported. "Reagan spent nearly two weeks in the hospital recovering from wounds and blood loss. His press secretary, James Brady, was shot in the head. Brady survived but spent the next 28 years in a wheelchair. A year after the attack, a court found the perpetrator, Hinckley, not guilty by reason of insanity."

Police and Secret Service agents react to the assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan in 1981 outside the Hilton Hotel in Washington, DC.
AFP / AFP/Getty Images
AFP/Getty Images
Police and Secret Service agents react to the assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan in 1981 outside the Hilton Hotel in Washington, DC.

Reagan's daughter Patti Davis recently told NPR she thought the "verdict of not guilty by reason of insanity was a bad verdict." And after the judge's ruling in July, as Carrie reported, the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Institute said "contrary to the judge's decision, we believe John Hinckley is still a threat to others and we strongly oppose his release."

Hinckley, who is 61, has been inching toward freedom for years, as Carrie reported:

"Saint Elizabeths Hospital says he no longer presents a danger to himself or others. Doctors report his depression and psychosis are in full remission. In court, his lawyer described a man who plays guitar, goes to movies and browses in bookstores.

"Hinckley already spends 17 days each month with his mother in the Kingsmill resort community in Williamsburg."

His lawyer Barry Levine told The Associated Press that he thinks Hinckley will be a "citizen about whom we can all be proud."

Hinckley will be tightly restricted, especially during the first year after his release. The court set numerous terms, including limitations on his movement and multiple court-mandated appointments for treatment every month.

Here are some examples:

  • He must notify a member of his treatment team before visiting any private homes.
  • He is not allowed contact with the media.
  • He "may not publicly display, physically or on the internet, any memorabilia, writings, paintings, photographs, art work, or music created by him, even anonymously," without the approval of his treatment team.
  • He is not allowed to contact his victims, their family members, or Jodie Foster — who he was obsessed with. He may not "knowingly travel" to areas where "the current or former Presidents, Vice Presidents, members of Congress, senior members of the Executive Branch, or any U.S. Secret Service protectee are or will be present imminently.
  • He is not allowed to consume alcohol or illegal drugs.
  • He "may only reside in the community with his mother at her home in Williamsburg, Virginia for at least the first full year of convalescent leave. After a year on convalescent leave, following the comprehensive risk assessment conducted by the Hospital, Mr. Hinckley may reside in a separate residence, either alone or with roommates, or in a group home within a 30-mile radius of Williamsburg," if all the members of his treatment team agree.
  • He can only travel within a 30-mile radius of his mother's home unaccompanied unless it is to an appointment for treatment in D.C.
  • He must "carry a GPS-enabled cell phone whenever he is away from his mother's residence."
  • He must volunteer or work at least three days every week.
  • He must meet with a doctor for psychiatric treatment at least twice per month, which can be reduced to once per month after six months.
  • He must meet with a therapist for individual sessions at least three times per month and group sessions every week. The individual sessions can be reduced to twice a month after six months.
  • He must participate in music therapy sessions at least once per month.
  • Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

    Merrit Kennedy is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She covers a broad range of issues, from the latest developments out of the Middle East to science research news.

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