The facts of the assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan’s life and the others who were shot on March 30, 1981 can be found on the Encyclopedia Britannica blog. What is startling is that for the past year, under a judge’s order, would-be assassin John Hinckley, the last man to shoot a U.S. President, spends 17 days a month at his 85-year-old mother’s gated Williamsburg resort community home overlooking a golf course.
Court hearings are set to begin this week on whether to further expand Hinckley’s time away from the mental health facility —- possibly permanently. His outings began in 2003 with day visits outside the institution, then local overnight visits. Starting in 2006, Hinckley was allowed three-night trips to Williamsburg, then four, then more. In late 2013, a judge approved the current 17-day stretches. Paul Friedman, Senior District Judge for the District of Columbia said he was persuaded Hinckley was not a danger and that the longer stays might “provide new opportunities for employment and structured community activities.”
Hinckley now nearly 60, volunteers, goes to movies, plays guitar, eats in restaurants and drives alone, but only to places where “people will be expecting him.” He must “avoid areas where the president or members of Congress may be visiting.”
“Avoid?” Is there no stronger admonition?
Prosecutors have consistently opposed Hinckley’s release, arguing he has a history of deceptive behavior and troubling relationships with women. During the last hearings, they cited a July 2011 incident in which he went to a bookstore instead of a movie and then lied about it. The Secret Service, whose agents sporadically tail Hinckley, reported he looked at shelves that contained books about Reagan and his attempted assassination, though he didn’t pick anything up.
“Mr. Hinckley has not shown himself ready to conduct the hard work of transitioning to a new city,” prosecutor Sarah Chasson said in 2011.
Mark David Chapman shot and killed John Lennon in 1980. He was sentenced to 20 years to life. He has been denied parole eight times. The parole board concluded that releasing Chapman would “deprecate the seriousness of the crime and serve to undermine respect for the law.”
Why couldn’t Judge Friedman, a 1994 Bill Clinton appointee, reach the same conclusion when it comes to John Hinckley?