In releasing John Hinckley Jr. over the weekend, Federal Judge Paul Friedman brushed aside virtually all of the government’s public safety warnings and eliminated most of the monitoring programs for the man who attempted to assassinate President Ronald Reagan.
Friedman’s order allowed Hinckley last Saturday to walk as a free man out of St. Elizabeth’s mental institution under “full-time convalescent leave.”
Most news organizations over the weekend simply reported that he was freed. None looked into the raging legal fight between Friedman and the government over the conditions for Hinckley’s release.
Hinckley will now live full-time in a luxurious gated resort community called Kingsmill, an estate facing the James River that developers claim is an “AAA 4 Diamond resort.”
His mother’s home is astride the 13th hole of a championship PGA golf course, one of three championship golf courses on the property. Her backyard faces a picturesque pond.
Hinckley also will enjoy a sharp reduction in treatment, complete freedom of movement, more unsupervised time, and nearly unrestricted use of the Internet, according to a Daily Caller News Foundation investigation. He will be able to “self-report” his daily activities and provide fewer details than before.
Hinckley attempted to assassinate Reagan March 30, 1981, in Washington, D.C. He shot the president in the chest and severely wounded James Brady, his press secretary. A Secret Service agent and a Washington, D.C. police officer also were shot.
Hinckley sought to kill the president in an effort to impress actress Jodie Foster after identifying with a character in the movie “Taxi Driver.”
The original trial judge ruled in 1982 that he was not guilty by reason of insanity, a decision that caused an uproar throughout the country. The prosecution expert witnesses said he was legally sane at the time of shooting.
Friedman has handled the Hinckley case since he took over from the trial judge in 2001. He was nominated to the bench by former President Bill Clinton in 1994.
Friedman rejected virtually all of the government’s pleas. He threw out the government’s request that changes in Hinckley’s treatment “should not be left to the discretion of Mr. Hinckley’s treatment (team), but instead should be approved to the court.”
Dr. Raymond F. Patterson, the government’s psychiatric expert, had asked for more, not less, treatment for Hinckley in Williamsburg, Va., where he will live with his 90-year-old mother.
The frequency of psychiatric intervention and support should increase in Williamsburg, “because you’re already decreasing the hospital component,” Patterson told Friedman. The judge endorsed less treatment.
Overall, Patterson criticized the treatment plan written by St. Elizabeth’s hospital because it, “contains too few contacts with both the Williamsburg and the hospital treatment teams.”
Government monitoring of Hinckley will be sharply curtailed and Patterson warned the hospital plan, “lacks sufficient monitoring and risk-managment planning.”
Hinckley will no longer be forced to wear an ankle GPS bracelet or a have a monitoring tracking device attached to his car. In 2011, Hinckley obtained a Virginia driver’s license. He will be able to drive unescorted in a 30-mile radius of Williamsburg without any government surveillance.
The judge permitted the elimination of most monitoring, claiming, “there is no evidence that Mr. Hinckley is an elopement risk.” He will be required to carry a GPS-enabled cellphone when he is away from his mother’s home.
Kingsmill boasts miles of jogging trails, a marina, indoor and outdoor pools, hard and clay tennis courts, exercise equipment, golf courses and an upscale restaurants all within the self-contained community. If Mrs. Hinckley is a member, which is likely, her son will have access to all of the resort’s amenities.
President Barack Obama was at the resort to prepare for his second presidential debate with then-Republican candidate Mitt Romney. The resort has also served as a retreat for Democratic and Republican leadership and members of Congress.
Patterson and government officials fear Hinckley could suffer a return of psychotic behavior in the future and pleaded with the court for more scrutiny, not less.
He specifically protested that the “self-reporting” system proposed by St. Elizabeth’s was inadequate. “Mr. Hinckley’s history of failing to self-report” makes detection of any “decompensation” or regression impossible to detect.
Patterson told the court that while Hinckley has shown total and sustained remission of depressive or psychotic disorders, he still suffers from “narcissistic personality disorder.”
The Mayo Clinic states on its website that people with this disorder “feel conceited, boastful or pretentious.”
They “may belittle or look down on people you perceive as inferior,” and they may “react with rage or contempt and try to belittle other people who they consider inferior.”
The Clinic also said people afflicted with the disorder may make the patient “feel a sense of entitlement — and when you don’t receive special treatment, you may become impatient or angry.”
Even though he has been visiting his mother’s home for years, Hinckley has not been accepted in the Williamsburg area and many stores, including a local Starbucks, refused to hire him.
Friedman admitted as much in his order acknowledging that Hinckley, “continued to face rejection and reticence in some instances from the Williamsburg community.”
Instead, Hinckley has fallen back on volunteer work at Eastern State Hospital, an area mental institution and at a local Unitarian Universalist Church.
Friedman said that during closely monitored 17-day visits to Williamsburg, he has bowled, attended lectures, attended outdoor musical concerts and joined a local community center to exercise. He also has taken up photography as a hobby, according to the court.
Government officials are gravely concerned about a number of episodes in 2011 in which he deliberately lied to case workers and to his therapists about his travels within Williamsburg. Secret Service agents were able to see that he deviated from his promised itinerary and informed the court.
However, Friedman exuded confidence that, “he will faithfully adhere to the rules that are prescribed for him.”
Friedman also permitted Hinckley to self-report a daily log of activities that would be “far less detailed than previously.” Pre-planned itineraries will no longer be submitted to the court for approval, he ruled.
The judge ordered that for six months to a year, he cannot search the Internet for reports of his previous crime, for sites displaying weapons or “hard core pornography.”
However, he rejected the government’s insistence that tracking monitoring software be installed on his computer.
The government also is concerned that Hinckley could seek out weapons and look into assassination plots.
In one instance as reported by the Secret Service, Hinckley traveled to a local Williamsburg book store and asked a salesman about books on presidential assassinations. The clerk reported the incident to the Secret Service and several days of hearings were held before Friedman, although no action was taken to curtail his trips within the community.
Friedman dismissed the worry over weapons, stating, there is “no evidence that Mr. Hinckley has sought access or displayed an interest in weapons of any kind.”
The government is concerned that the death of his mother could spark a new round of depression or psychotic behavior.
Friedman did not seem perturbed about his mother’s death, stating the court noticed he handled his father’s death in 2008 “quite well.”
Without providing any evidence, the judge said he was confident that Hinckley “will not decompensate or become dangerous at that time.”
Hinckley “is not a danger to himself or others,” Friedman concluded, upon ordering him to be freed from St. Elizabeth’s Hospital.
“This is absolutely so wrong. To let this guy go free. He almost killed the 40th President of the United States, coming within an inch of his heart,” Jim Kuhn, top executive assistant to Reagan and first lady Nancy Reagan throughout their eight years in the White House, told TheDCNF.
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