John Hinckley Jr., who shot and wounded U.S. President Ronald Reagan in 1981, was freed from court oversight Wednesday, officially concluding decades of supervision by legal and mental health professionals.
Hinckley wrote on Twitter, “After 41 years 2 months and 15 days, FREEDOM AT LAST!!!”
Hinckley’s full release and the lifting of all restrictions had been expected since late September. U.S. District Court Judge Paul L. Friedman in Washington said he’d free Hinckley on June 15 if he continued to remain mentally stable in the community in Virginia where he has lived since 2016.
The 67-year-old, who was acquitted by reason of insanity, spent the decades before that in a Washington mental hospital, after shooting and wounding the 40th U.S. president and several others outside a Washington hotel.
Reagan’s press secretary, James Brady, was among those who survived, despite being shot above the left eye, with the bullet shattering in his head.
After Brady died in 2014 at the age of 73, a medical examiner ruled his death a homicide, saying it was the direct result of the injuries he suffered in the shooting.
However, federal prosecutors said they would not charge Hinckley with Brady’s murder, saying a judge or jury would be prevented from finding that Hinckley was sane at the time Brady was shot, because of his previous acquittal.
The shooting also injured Secret Service agent Timothy McCarthy and Washington police officer Thomas Delahanty.
Impact on Reagan’s legacy, gun control
Freedom for Hinckley will include giving a concert — he plays guitar and sings — in Brooklyn, New York, that’s scheduled for July.
However, he is far from being the household name that he became after the shooting. Historians say his legacy is unintentionally helping build the Reagan legend and inspiring a push for stricter gun control.
“For the president himself to have been so seriously wounded, and to come back from that — that actually made Ronald Reagan the legend that he became … like the movie hero that he was,” said Barbara A. Perry, a professor and director of presidential studies at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center.
In 1993, President Bill Clinton signed into law the Brady bill, which required a five-day waiting period for handgun purchases and background checks of prospective buyers.
The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence and The Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence are also named after Brady and his wife, Sarah.
After hospitalization, Hinckley moved to Virginia
Hinckley was 25 and suffering from acute psychosis when he shot Reagan and the others.
When jurors found him not guilty by reason of insanity, they said he needed treatment and not a lifetime in confinement. He was ordered to live at St. Elizabeths Hospital in Washington.
In the 2000s, Hinckley began making visits to his parents’ home in a gated Williamsburg, Va., community. A 2016 court order granted him permission to live with his mom full time, albeit under various restrictions, after experts said his mental illness had been in remission for decades.
Hinckley’s mother died in July. He signed a lease on a one-bedroom apartment in the area last year and began living there with his cat, Theo, according to court filings.
Over the years, the court restricted Hinckley from owning a gun or using drugs or alcohol. He also couldn’t contact the actor Jodie Foster, with whom he was obsessed at the time of the shooting, or any of his victims or their families.
Stephen J. Morse, a University of Pennsylvania professor of law and psychiatry, told the Associated Press last year that Hinckley’s acquittal by reason of insanity means he is not to blame for what happened and he cannot be punished.
“If he hadn’t attempted to kill President Reagan, this guy would have been released ages ago,” Morse said.
No signs of active mental illness since mid ’80s
Barry Levine, Hinckley’s attorney, said in court last year that Hinckley wanted to express his “heartfelt” apologies and “profound regret” to the people he shot and their families, as well as to Foster and the American people.
But the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Institute said in a statement last year that it was “saddened” by the court’s plan, stating that “we believe John Hinckley is still a threat to others.”
Friedman, the federal judge overseeing Hinckley’s case, said on June 1 that Hinckley has shown no signs of active mental illness since the mid-1980s and has exhibited no violent behaviour or interest in weapons.
“I am confident that Mr. Hinckley will do well in the years remaining to him,” the judge said during the hearing earlier this month.
He noted that lawyers for the government and Hinckley have fought for years over whether Hinckley should be given increasing amounts of freedom.
“It took us a long time to get here,” he said, adding that there is now unanimous agreement: “This is the time to let John Hinckley move on with his life, so we will.”