John Hinckley, Jr.,—the man who tried to assassinate President Ronald Reagan on March 30, 1981—is set to be released from a mental hospital as early as next week. U.S. District Judge Paul L. Friedman ruled that Hinckley will live full-time with his mother in Williamsburg, Va., and will have the opportunity to live on his own after one year.
Hinckley was sent to live in a federal mental institution in 1982 after the courts found Hinckley not guilty by reason of insanity. Judge Friedman’s decision this week is based on the hospital’s determination that Hinckley’s psychosis and depression have been in a “full and sustained remission for well over twenty years.” Hinckley also completed over 80 unsupervised visits to his family in Williamsburg, “fully complying with the Court’s strict conditions, with two minor exceptions.”
“The court finds by the preponderance of the evidence that Mr. Hinckley will not be a danger to himself or to others if released on full-time convalescent leave to Williamsburg under the conditions proposed,” Friedman concluded in the 103-page opinion.
Over the next year, Hinckley will be restricted to a 50-mile radius around Williamsburg. He will be prohibited from contacting his victims, their relatives, or actress Jodie Foster. Hinckley’s actions were reportedly an attempt to impress the actress, with whom he had developed an obsession.
Hinckley will also be prohibited from consuming alcohol, possessing a firearm, accessing social media, or traveling to locations where there are current presidents or members of Congress.
Hinckley used a .22-caliber Rohm RG-14 in his attempt to kill the President. He sent Reagan to the hospital for nearly two weeks and paralyzed Reagan’s press secretary James Brady. Hinckley also injured Secret Service agent Tim McCarthy and Washington, D.C., police officer Thomas Delahanty.
No one was immediately killed in the attack, but the incident eventually led to the adoption of the Brady Bill, named after Reagan’s press secretary. Hinckley purchased his Rohm RG-14 at a pawn shop in Dallas in 1980. The Brady Bill—signed by President Clinton in 1993—mandated a background check be performed on every person attempting to purchase a gun from a seller “in the business” of selling firearms. The law applied to gun stores and pawn shops like the one from which Hinckley bought his gun, and still applies to gun purchases today.
Hinckley’s case also influenced how courts deal with mentally ill criminals. According to the Washington Post, 38 states, as well as the federal government, raised the standard of proof for the insanity defense, “which is now rarely used and is even more rarely successful.”
Despite the changes to the law, Hinckley’s longtime lawyer Barry Wm. Levine reiterated the would-be assassin’s mental health issues in his statement to the Post: “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,” Levine said. “He is profoundly sorry 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.”
Not everyone, of course, takes Hinckley at his word. President Regan’s daughter—Patti Reagan Davis—expressed concern when she heard her father’s assassin would be release. “I hope the doctors are right when they say that John Hinckley isn’t a danger to anyone, but something in me feels they are wrong,” she said.