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Would-Be Ronald Reagan Assassin John Hinckley Gets Full, Unconditional Release

John Hinckley, who attempted to assassinate President Ronald Reagan in 1981 as part of an obsessive effort to gain the affection of actor Jodie Foster, will be released from a court's continued oversight on June 15.

By Megan Carpentier
Infamous Modern Assassinations

The man who tried to assassinate Ronald Reagan in 1981 will have any remaining restrictions on his release removed by the courts later this month.

John Hinckley Jr., 67, has been living in Virginia full-time since he was released from a mental health facility in 2016, albeit with several restrictions, the Associated Press reports. Those restrictions include allowing authorities access to his electronic devices, email and social media; clearing all trips of greater than 75 miles with the courts three days in advance; not traveling any place where he knows a Secret Service-protected individual will be; not contacting actor Jodie Foster, members of the Reagan family or the survivors of his other victim James Brady; and not owning a gun.

The judge overseeing his case, U.S. District Judge Paul Friedman, announced in September that the restrictions would likely be removed on June 15 if Hinckley continued to abide by the standards set by the court and showed no continuing signs of mental health problems. 

On Wednesday, the judge announced at a hearing that that Hinckley's unconditional release will go into effect as planned in two weeks, the AP reported.

"I am confident that Mr. Hinckley will do well in the years remaining to him," Friedman said at the hearing, which Hinckley did not attend. "He’s been scrutinized. He’s passed every test. He’s no longer a danger to himself or others."

"If he hadn’t tried to kill the president, he would have been given unconditional release a long, long, long time ago," Friedman previously said at the September hearing, noting that Hinckley had displayed no signs of continuing mental health problems, no violent behavior and no interest in weapons since 1983.

John Hinckley Jr G

Though prosecutors had previously objected to any removal of the conditions of his release, in a court filing ahead of a hearing in the case on Wednesday that "the Government has found no evidence to suggest that Mr. Hinckley’s unconditional release should not be granted."

On Wednesday, prosecutor Kacie Weston reiterated that stance, saying that Hinckley “has demonstrated the success that can come from a wraparound mental health system," according to the AP. She added that the government wishes "him success for both his sake as well as the safety of the community," and noted his stated desire to continue receiving mental health treatment after the requirement that he do so is removed.

“John worked hard," Hinckley's longtime lawyer, Barry Levine, said after the hearing, according to the AP. "He wanted to correct something that he was unable to erase, and this is the best outcome that one could imagine.”

“His regrets will always be with him with respect to the families of those he injured,” Levine added.

The Reagan Foundation and Institute, which objected to the removal of restrictions on Hinckley in a September statement, reiterated its objections on Wednesday.

"We strongly oppose his release into society where he apparently seeks to make a profit from his infamy," it read, in reference to Hinckley's reported desire to write and perform original music.

Reagan's daughter, Patti Davis, said last September that she believes Hinckley — who spent 34 years in a mental health facility after being found not guilty by reason of insanity in the assassination attempt — lacked remorse for his actions and remained a narcissist.

"And now there is another fear – that the man who wielded that gun and almost got his wish of assassinating the president could decide to contact me,” Davis wrote in an op-ed published by the Washington Post. "He can now, if he wants, contact me, my siblings, and the actress Jodie Foster, whom, as is well known, he was trying to impress by carrying out this ambush.”

Hinckley's lawyer Levine told reporters last year that his client wished to express "profound regret" to his victims, their families, Foster and the American people. In the wake of Davis' op-ed, he added that Hinckley was "very sympathetic to the feelings of Ms. Davis and of her family," People reported.

Hinckley was arrested on March 30, 1981 after he attacked the presidential motorcade as it was leaving the Washington Hilton. He shot Secret Service agent Timothy McCarthy, D.C. police officer Thomas Delahanty, Reagan press secretary James Brady and the president, Ronald Reagan. All survived, though Brady was left partially paralyzed and ultimately died as a result of his injuries in 2014. 

Hinckley was prosecuted for the assassination attempt, but a jury found him not guilty by reason of insanity in 1982 based on a diagnosis of acute psychosis, and he was remanded to a mental health facility for several decades. Hinckley, who was 25, had become obsessed with the actor Jodie Foster after seeing her play a sex trafficked child in the 1976 film "Taxi Driver" when she was 14. 

He wrote Foster multiple letters, including one just before the shooting, in which he referred to the planned assassination as a "historical deed" that he hoped would earn her affection.

The then-18-year-old Foster said she was "very shocked, very frightened" by Hinckley's actions.

In 2003, Friedman began allowing Hinckley to leave the facility to visit his family in Virginia with restrictions — including ongoing therapy, travel restrictions and the no-contact order. He then allowed Hinckley to begin living with his mother full-time in 2016 with the aforementioned restrictions as well as ongoing therapy, a ban on media interviews and the understanding that he could still be tailed by the Secret Service.

Hinckley was reportedly selling antiques and used books online in 2019, the AP reported. In 2020, Friedman allowed Hinckley to publicly display his paintings, writing and musical efforts, the AP also reported. As a result of that decision, Hinckley began to upload videos of himself playing both new music and covers to his own YouTube channel in early 2021.

Hinckley's mother died in August 2021, the AP reported, and Hinckley reportedly moved in with one of his brothers.

Hinckley plans to perform his music at a concert in New York City in July, the outlet reported, though previously scheduled appearances in Connecticut and Chicago were canceled.

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