WASHINGTON — A judge who ruled that would-be Ronald Reagan assassin John Hinckley Jr. should be allowed to leave the psychiatric hospital where he had lived for decades said Wednesday he got less "blowback" on the decision earlier this year than he expected.
U.S. District Judge Paul L. Friedman made the comments during a talk at George Washington University in Washington where he received an award.
Friedman has overseen the Hinckley case for more than a decade, giving Hinckley freedom in stages. In 2003, Friedman ruled that Hinckley could leave St. Elizabeths hospital for unsupervised one-day visits with his parents. That ruling generated hate mail, emails and faxes, so much that he received protection from the U.S. Marshals Service, Friedman said. Over the years since, Friedman has ruled that Hinckley could spend time at his mother's home in Williamsburg, Virginia, in longer and longer stretches.
In July, Friedman ruled that the now 61-year-old Hinckley should be allowed to live full-time in Virginia, though he has to comply with a set of conditions and return to Washington monthly for outpatient visits to St. Elizabeths.
Friedman said of his most recent decision: "What I've found is this last time I didn't get as much blowback as I thought I'd get. And what I realized is, you know, once I opened the door that little crack the first time there was no turning back unless he really screwed up," he said.
Hinckley was found not guilty by reason of insanity at the time he shot Reagan on March 30, 1981, a shooting that also paralyzed press secretary James Brady and injured two others. Friedman said Wednesday, as he has in opinions in the case, that Hinckley's mental health issues have been in "full and sustained remission" for decades and he was ready to leave the hospital.
Friedman still gets monthly reports about Hinckley's activities and said he now has "one small part-time paying job." He did not say what that was.
"My view was after 34 years after the event, any other patient at St. Elizabeths hospital except one, who tried to kill a president, would have been out a long time ago. And the other side of the coin is: but he did try to kill a president. In terms of where he stands in terms of his mental health I'm very, very confident," Friedman said.
In the audience Wednesday were Hinckley's longtime lawyer Barry Levine and one of the prosecutors who had handled the case, Colleen Kennedy.
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