Federal judge OKs unsupervised trips for Reagan shooter

Strict conditions attached as Hinckley wins request over number of objections

December 18, 2003|By James Gerstenzang and Faye Fiore | James Gerstenzang and Faye Fiore,LOS ANGELES TIMES

WASHINGTON - John W. Hinckley Jr., the man who shot President Ronald Reagan, won a federal judge's permission yesterday to make unsupervised visits with his parents beyond the grounds of St. Elizabeths Hospital, where he has lived for the past two decades.

Lawyers for the 48-year-old would-be assassin argued that he had made sufficient strides in more than 20 years of psychiatric treatment that it was safe to allow him to spend time with his parents away from the supervision and scrutiny of the hospital staff.

Reagan's wife, Nancy, and others close to the former president expressed disappointment at the ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Paul L. Friedman, which allows Hinckley to take up to six day trips and two overnight visits under his parents' supervision. He must remain within 50 miles of Washington, which would preclude a visit to his parents' home in Williamsburg, Va., about 150 miles away.

Hinckley was acquitted by reason of insanity in the shootings on March 30, 1981, of Reagan; White House press secretary James S. Brady, who suffered serious brain damage; and two law enforcement officers.

"Although the judge limited Mr. Hinckley's travel to the Washington, D.C., area, we continue to fear for the safety of the general public," Nancy Reagan said in a statement. "Our thoughts are with all of Mr. Hinckley's victims today, especially Jim Brady and his family, as they must continue to live with the tragic consequences of the assassination attempt."

The U.S. attorney's office, which opposed any unsupervised activities by Hinckley beyond the hospital grounds, has 30 days to appeal the ruling.

Brady's wife, Sarah Brady, had asked Friedman to deny Hinckley's request. "We do fear for our safety. He ruined Jim Brady's life once. We don't want him to do so again - either physically or emotionally," she wrote.

At the time of the shooting and his trial, Hinckley said he had targeted the president to impress actress Jodie Foster.

Two decades of therapy and a steady regimen of antipsychotic drugs have led mental health experts who have examined him recently, including government psychiatrists, to agree that he is in "full remission" and has been for years. None said he was dangerous, and all agreed during three days of hearings that passes for day trips with his family were part of the natural progression of his therapy.

Hinckley had sought a limited conditional release from the hospital. The hospital had recommended that he be allowed to make overnight visits away from the Washington area. Both were denied. Instead, Friedman established a complex set of procedures that would restrict Hinckley's activities away from the hospital.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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