WASHINGTON (CBS/AP) John Hinckley, who tried to assassinate President Ronald Reagan nearly three decades ago, is being allowed by a federal judge to spend more time away from his psychiatric hospital and apply for a driver's license.
U.S. District Judge Paul Friedman ruled Tuesday that Hinckley's health will probably improve with more freedom and that he wouldn't be a danger to himself or others.
Hinckley, 54, has been committed to St. Elizabeth's Hospital in Washington since he shot and wounded Reagan, press secretary James Brady, a Secret Service agent and a policeman on March 30, 1981, as Reagan left a downtown hotel. Hinckley was found not guilty by reason of insanity. He said he shot Reagan to impress actress Jodie Foster.
Hinckley's freedom from the hospital has been increased incrementally in recent years with no reports of incidents. The goal is to evaluate whether Hinckley can eventually be released to live independently in his mother's hometown of Williamsburg, Va.
Judge Friedman ruled that Hinckley can increase the length of his visits from the hospital to Williamsburg from six nights at a time to nine. He'll also be able to do volunteer work in Williamsburg and take driver's education, and earn more unsupervised time if he keeps up the volunteer work.
Federal prosecutors had opposed the request by the hospital and Hinckley to increase the length of his visits, saying the hospital underestimated the risk that Hinckley could be violent again and that the support structure in Williamsburg was inadequate.
Prosecutors also said Hinckley's relationships with women were worrisome, pointing out that he had been seeing at least two, maybe more, women at the same time and that he might act out again to demonstrate his love.
Prosecutors also argued that Hinckley's recent recording of a song he wrote before the assassination attempt titled, "The Ballad of the Outlaw," is evidence that he continues to have violent thoughts. Music therapy is part of Hinckley's treatment at St. Elizabeth's. He's also recorded songs about the women he's been seeing and one about his late father titled, "Hero."
Judge Friedman granted prosecutors' request that Hinckley be required to carry a GPS-enabled cell phone to help authorities track his whereabouts. And the judge agreed with prosecutors that Hinckley should not be allowed to perform volunteer work in Washington D.C. unaccompanied, as Hinckley and the hospital had requested, since the goal is to integrate him into the Williamsburg community.
Judge Friedman said Hinckley has never tried to escape from the hospital or while on unsupervised visits with his parents. He also said indications were that Hinckley has faithfully taken his medications daily.
In a 43-page ruling, the judge found that Hinckley's psychotic disorder and major depression have been in remission and that long ago he stopped exhibiting violent behavior and evidence of delusional thinking and obsessive conduct. Judge Friedman said a relapse is not likely to occur suddenly but could be detected over weeks or months by family and mental health professionals who will be monitoring him.
The Reagan and Brady families strongly objected to the judge's ruling in 2003 granting the unsupervised visits.
Judge Friedman said Hinckley still suffers from narcissistic personality disorder, exhibiting signs of grandiosity and self-importance, but not the same intense self-absorption that was present during the 1980s. He also can be deceptive, guarded, defensive and sometimes secretive, Judge Friedman found.
Hinckley's shooting seriously injured Reagan and paralyzed Brady, who was visiting the White House Tuesday as Judge Friedman issued his order. If Brady was aware of the ruling, he didn't mention it as he met with current press secretary Robert Gibbs and toured the renovated press briefing room named in his honor.