With freedom, Hinckley faces scrutiny of girlfriends, internet use

WASHINGTON — More than 35 years after shooting and wounding President Ronald Reagan, John Hinckley Jr. will have to abide by a federal judge’s 14-page order, dictating what the 61-year-old Hinckley can and can’t do, when he leaves St. Elizabeth’s Hospital to live with his mother in Williamsburg, Virginia, as early as next week.

Wednesday’s order allows Hinckley to depart the walls of the mental hospital where he has lived since being found not guilty by reason of insanity for shooting Reagan outside the Washington Hilton, March 30, 1981. Hinckley’s release could come as early as Aug. 5.

Since 2006, Judge Paul L. Friedman, of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, has permitted Hinckley to stay overnight with his family in Williamsburg with increasing frequency and freedoms.

In his order and 103-page opinion, Friedman lays out why he believes Hinckley is ready for “full-time convalescent leave,” which includes strict conditions of behavior for Hinckley, who shot Reagan in an attempt to impress actress Jodie Foster.

“More than 34 years later, Mr. Hinckley is 61 years old and suffering from arthritis, high blood pressure, and various other physical ailments like many men his age. He has been under the care of St. Elizabeth’s Hospital for over three decades. Since 1983, when he last attempted suicide, he has displayed no symptoms of active mental illness, exhibited no violent behavior, shown no interest in weapons, and demonstrated no suicidal ideation,” Friedman wrote.

Friedman said the government and hospital agree Hinckley’s primary diagnoses of psychotic disorder and major depression, “have been in full and sustained remission for well over twenty years, perhaps more than 27 years.”

As he reintegrates to life outside hospital walls, Hinckley will be required to navigate realities that didn’t exist when he entered St. E’s, including GPS monitoring, the internet and social media, traffic in Virginia, and the notoriety that comes with being a would-be presidential assassin.

The Department of Behavior Health at St. Elizabeth’s, through the Forensic Outpatient Department, or FOPD, “shall have the ultimate responsibility for ensuring that Mr. Hinckley receives appropriate psychiatric treatment and medication” while residing in Williamsburg, according to Friedman’s order.


Hinckley will be required to travel to St. E’s at least once per month for monitoring of his mental condition, but after six months will be able to phase out individual psychotherapy in D.C.

The hospital will have to notify the Secret Service, and lawyers for Hinckley and the government at least two weeks before each trip to D.C., including “the intended travel route and time of departure from Williamsburg.”

Hinckley, who got a Virginia driver’s license in 2014, will not have to install a tracking device on any vehicles he drives, but will have to provide make, model, and license numbers of those cars to the FOPD, which will advise the Secret Service.

Whenever he is away from his mother, Jo Ann’s home, Hinckley will be required to carry a GPS-enabled cellphone. According to the judge’s order, Hinckley’s Williamsburg treatment team and the director of St. Elizabeth’s “are authorized to access the GPS data from Mr. Hinckley’s cellphone.”

Hinckley will be limited to traveling by himself within a 30-mile radius of Williamsburg, unless he is traveling to D.C. for his monthly appointment, but can venture up to 50 miles when with a Williamsburg treatment team member of a family member.

Stay away

Hinckley has been ordered to “have no contact whatsoever with the following persons: Jodie Foster or any member of her family,” any family member of Reagan, or family members of former Press Secretary James Brady, who was the most severely injured during the shooting. Brady died in 2014, Reagan in 2004.

In addition, Hinckley is supposed to avoid former D.C. police officer Thomas Delahanty, and retired Secret Service agent Tim McCarthy, who were both wounded when Hinckley fired six shots from his handgun, as Reagan walked to his limousine after a speaking engagement at the Hilton.

Hinckley is also supposed to have no contact with Jeanette Wick or members of her family. Wick, an employee at St. Elizabeth’s, had a friendship with Hinckley that eventually soured — she accused him of stalking her.

In his lengthy opinion, Friedman wrote Hinckley’s relationships with women have been appropriate in recent years. While the government had expressed concern that Hinckley’s relationships may lead him to become dangerous, “over these many years there has been no evidence that Mr. Hinckley’s romantic relationships — real relationships, not delusional fantasies about movie stars or others — have caused him to be dangerous to himself or others.”

However with Hinckley’s history, and the centrality of relationships with women “and their potential effect on his stability and judgment, Mr. Hinckley’s relationships with women therefore will continue to be of interest to his treatment providers and to the Court.”

Hinckley has been ordered to not knowingly travel to areas “where the current or former Presidents, Vice Presidents, members of Congress, senior members of the Executive Branch, or any U.S. Secret Service protectee are, or will be present imminently.”

If Hinckley inadvertently enters an area near political figures, he is required to leave the area promptly if requested by law enforcement.

Internet use

Hinckley will be permitted access to the internet, though with severe restrictions, in part because of his narcissistic tendencies associated with his infamy, according to the judge’s order.

“For at least the first six months of convalescent leave, Mr. Hinckley should not access any website or search for any information relating to Mr. Hinckley’s crimes or his victims, weapons, or hardcore pornography,” Friedman wrote.

After six months to a year, Hinckley’s treatment teams will decide if he should have more online access.

“Mr. Hinckley shall not create any accounts with, or upload content to, social media websites, including but not limited to, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, and LinkedIn without unanimous authorization from the Williamsburg treatment team and (the director) of the FOPD,” according to the order.

Hinckley is forbidden from erasing any browser’s internet history, and he is required to share all account passwords with his providers.

Friedman’s order dictates Hinckley, who plays guitar, “participate in individual music therapy sessions at least once per month … with a board-certified music therapist.”

While in St. Elizabeth’s, Hinckley has shown an aptitude for art.

However, the judge is forbidding Hinckley from trying to cash-in on the basis of his name.

“Mr. Hinckley may not publicly display, physically or on the internet, any memorabilia, writings, paintings, photographs, art work, or music created by him, even anonymously, without approval from the Williamsburg treatment team,” Friedman wrote. “Before approving such a display, the Williamsburg treatment team must first assess any risk involved in such activities, including the risk involved if the media or public identify Mr. Hinckley’s work.”

Hinckley is forbidden from “any public musical performance either individually or with a group,” according to the order.

The conditions regarding interaction with the media remain the same as in prior years — Hinckley and his family may not contact reporters for any reason. If members of the media recognize Hinckley, he and his family “will decline to speak with them, and if the media persists, Mr. Hinckley and the members of his family will withdraw.”

A job, and a home

For at least the next year, Hinckley has been ordered to live in his mother’s home, but after that time period, his treatment teams may determine that he “may reside in a separate residence, either alone or with roommates, or in a group home,” within a 30-mile radius of Williamsburg.

Hinckley’s mother is 90. His father, John Sr., died in 2008.

Hinckley’s sister, Diane, and brother Scott have committed to traveling to Williamsburg if Jo Ann Hinckley is not able to adequately monitor Hinckley in her home.

Jonathan Weiss, a licensed clinical social worker, will help Hinckley in finding paid employment and volunteer positions. He is required to work or volunteer at least three days a week, according to the judge.

In his opinion, Friedman wrote Hinckley has earned praise from supervisors for volunteering at Eastern State Hospital and a local Unitarian Universalist Church, where he has recently been offered a paid position.

In Friedman’s conclusion, given the conditions he has imposed, “the Court concludes that Mr. Hinckley presents no danger to himself or to others in the reasonable future.”

Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a reporter at WTOP since 1997. Through the years, Neal has covered many of the crimes and trials that have gripped the region. Neal's been pleased to receive awards over the years for hard news, feature reporting, use of sound and sports.

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