WASHINGTON – The man who tried to assassinate President Ronald Reagan 30 years ago can make additional unsupervised visits to his mother's house from the psychiatric hospital where he is committed, a judge has ruled.
U.S. District Judge Paul Friedman decided Wednesday that John Hinckley Jr. can spend extra time away from St. Elizabeths Hospital. The actual number of visits will be determined in a future order from the judge, said Bill Miller, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Washington.
The hospital will file a plan either this month or in June for the additional releases, and the judge set an October hearing to discuss it in more detail.
"He agrees with us that there needs to be a hearing to discuss this issue more fully, and there needs to be a plan for these releases," Miller said.
The decision was made during a teleconference involving lawyers for Hinckley, the hospital and the government.
Barry W. Levine, a lawyer for Hinckley, did not return a call seeking comment Thursday.
Hinckley was found not guilty by reason of insanity after shooting Reagan on March 30, 1981, as he left a Washington hotel. Hinckley has said he shot Reagan to impress actress Jodie Foster. Press secretary James Brady, a Secret Service agent and a police officer also were shot and wounded during the assassination attempt. Reagan was seriously hurt, and Brady was left paralyzed.
Hinckley has received increased freedom from the hospital in recent years as his lawyers have argued that his mental health has improved with no reports of incidents. In 2009, for instance, Friedman ruled that Hinckley could apply for a driver's license and increase the length of his visits from his hospital to his mother's home in Williamsburg, Va., from six nights at a time to nine. He was also allowed to do volunteer work.
The judge directed Hinckley to carry a GPS-enabled cell phone while out of his mother's supervision so that authorities could keep track of his whereabouts. The same conditions will apply for future visits.
Friedman said Hinckley had never tried to escape from the hospital or while on unsupervised visits with his parents.
Prosecutors, though, have argued that the hospital has underestimated the risk that Hinckley could be violent again. They have said a recent recording of a song he wrote before the assassination attempt, titled "The Ballad of the Outlaw," was proof of continued violent thoughts. They also said he had disconcerting relationships with women, including seeing two and maybe more at the same time.
In court papers last month objecting to the requested extra visits, they said it had been nearly three years since the judge heard testimony about Hinckley's mental condition. Since then, they said, he has new doctors in his mother's hometown and at the hospital as well as "new family issues."
"The issues raised by these changed circumstances warrant serious consideration to determine whether Mr. Hinckley may now pose a threat to himself or others," they wrote.