A U.S. federal judge on Monday approved the unconditional release of John Hinckley Jr., who shot then-President Ronald Reagan and three others outside a Washington, D.C., hotel in 1981, after he and his lawyers reached an agreement with federal prosecutors.
The Justice Department reached a deal with Hinckley, 66, to free him from the stringent conditions and court supervision he’s been living under since 2016, when he was granted a conditional release.
Senior U.S. District Judge Paul Friedman said at a court hearing Monday he will officially approve the terms in writing later this week, asserting, “very few patients at St. Elizabeths Hospital have been studied more thoroughly than John Hinckley.”
Hinckley’s unconditional release will take effect in June 2022.
The agreement includes observation required by prosecutors and a government medical expert over the next nine months, but will not require any additional approval from the court.
Hinckley attempted to assassinate Reagan, the country’s 40th president, on March 30, 1981, using a .22 caliber revolver. It was revealed in court testimony that Hinckley, who was 25 at the time, told authorities he hoped that assassinating Reagan would impress movie star Jodie Foster. Hinckley ended up wounding Reagan, White House Press Secretary James Brady, Secret Service Special Agent Tim McCarthy and Metropolitan Police Department Officer Thomas Delahanty. Brady was paralyzed and critically injured in the attack, dying from his injuries 33 years later. In 1982, a jury found Hinckley not guilty by reason of insanity, as jurors decided Hinckley was suffering from acute psychosis and determined he needed treatment for mental illness as opposed to life in prison. Following the verdict, Hinckley was committed to St. Elizabeths Hospital in Washington, D.C. He spent more than 30 years in the government psychiatric hospital before restrictions placed upon him were gradually reduced. In 2016, after psychiatrists and the court found he no longer posed a danger to himself or others, Hinckley was granted conditional release to his mother’s home in Williamsburg, Virginia. Last year, the Department of Behavioral Health proposed an unconditional release, asserting he posed “low risk for future violence.” Hinckley’s attorney, Barry Levine, said his client’s mental disease is “in full, stable and complete remission and has been so for over three decades.” Hinckley has been ordered to stay away from Foster, as well as the families of Reagan and others wounded during the attack.
“Mr. Hinckley wants to express apologies. His apologies are heartfelt and ones of profound regret,” said Levine. “Perhaps it is too much to ask for forgiveness, but we hope to have an understanding that the acts that caused him to do this terrible thing were the product of mental illness.”
Shortly after the passing of James Brady, in August 2014, the medical examiner’s office in Virginia ruled the death a homicide resulting from the gunshot wound he suffered in Hinckley’s assassination attempt. However, in 2015, federal prosecutors said they would not charge Hinckley with murder. Brady was the first person shot in the 1981 attack. He was struck above the left eye, and the bullet shattered into more than two-dozen fragments. Brady underwent multiple surgeries to stop spinal fluid from leaking from his cranial cavity and an operation for a pulmonary embolism within his first three months in the hospital. Brady would go on to become one of the nation’s leading advocates of gun control, spearheading the fight to require background checks for handguns bought from federally licensed dealers.