Would-be Reagan assassin faces hearing that could expand freedom

Reuters News
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Posted: Apr 22, 2015 6:10 AM

By Ian Simpson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A U.S. federal judge begins hearings on Wednesday on whether would-be presidential assassin John Hinckley Jr. could get more time outside the mental hospital where he has lived since shooting Ronald Reagan in 1981.

Hinckley, 59, has been allowed since December 2013 to leave Washington's St. Elizabeths Hospital for 17 days a month to stay with his mother in Williamsburg, Virginia.

Hinckley shot Reagan and three others, including White House press secretary James Brady, in an attempt to impress actress Jodie Foster, with whom he was obsessed. A jury found him not guilty of attempted assassination by reason of insanity.

The hearing before U.S. District Judge Paul Friedman will determine whether the terms of Hinckley's confinement should be changed, and could last months before a decision is made.

Doctors and therapists had asked Friedman before his 2013 ruling on Hinckley's confinement to expand the length of his trips to Williamsburg, about 150 miles (240 km) south of Washington, to 24 days a month and eventually to let him live there full-time.

Friedman issued a 29-point order in February 2014 that set terms on details that included Hinckley's Internet use, travel, volunteer work, walks within his mother's subdivision, therapy and medication.

While on unaccompanied outings, Hinckley must avoid government centers in Richmond, Virginia, or areas where the president or members of Congress may be visiting.

Hinckley also must carry a GPS-enabled cell phone during unsupervised activities. He and his mother have to call the hospital at least once a day during each visit.

Hinckley's lawyer, Barry Levine, did not return calls requesting comment.

During a 2011 hearing, prosecutors argued that Hinckley had repeatedly engaged in deception when away from the hospital. In one case, Secret Service agents saw him browsing books on Reagan and other presidential assassins instead of going to a movie, as he had told doctors he would.

Hinckley was back in the news in August 2014 when Brady, who Hinckley shot in the head, died at age 73. A coroner determined that the death was attributable to the shooting.

Federal prosecutors declined in January to charge Hinckley after a review of the law, the history of the case and circumstances of Brady's death.

(Editing by Eric Walsh)