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Law

Hinckley wins unsupervised visits

Nancy Reagan says she's disappointed by judge's decision

From Kelli Arena
and Terry Frieden
CNN

A U.S. marshal, in sunglasses, escorts John Hinckley Jr. into court for a September 3 hearing.
A U.S. marshal, in sunglasses, escorts John Hinckley Jr. into court for a September 3 hearing.

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CNN's Kelli Arena reports on the judge's decision to grant John Hinckley unsupervised visits.
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The man who tried to assassinate President Ronald Reagan in 1981 will be allowed to have limited, unsupervised visits with his parents, a judge ruled Wednesday.

U.S. District Judge Paul Friedman decided that John Hinckley Jr. can have six, one-day visits with his parents within a 50-mile radius of Washington, D.C., without an escort from St. Elizabeth's Hospital, where he has been confined since the assassination attempt.

The judge denied Hinckley's request for overnight visits, or visits to his parents' home in Williamsburg, Virginia, which is outside the 50-mile limit.

The visits could begin after the holidays, but not sooner because Hinckley's parents must file an itinerary with the court two weeks in advance.

Reagan, who now suffers from Alzheimer's disease, was wounded when Hinckley shot him, his press secretary, James Brady, and two others outside the Washington Hilton on March 30, 1981.

Hinckley was found not guilty by reason of insanity. He said he shot the president to impress actress Jodie Foster, a student at Yale University at the time.

Former first lady Nancy Reagan said in a written statement she was disappointed by the judge's ruling.

"Although the judge limited Mr. Hinckley's travel to the Washington, D.C., area, we continue to fear for the safety of the general public," the statement said.

"Our thoughts are with all of Mr. Hinckley's victims today, especially Jim Brady and his family, as they must continue to live with the tragic consequences of the assassination attempt."

Brady's wife, Sarah, has also opposed Hinckley's release without hospital supervision.

In his decision, the judge added that if strict conditions are met and the initial six visits go well, Hinckley may eventually be allowed to have two overnight visits with his parents -- again within a 50-mile radius of Washington.

The court order requires Hinckley's parents to formally sign an agreement to assume supervisory responsibility for their son. The Hinckleys will also be required to maintain telephone contact with the hospital during the visits.

"If there are any signs of decompensation or deterioration in Mr. Hinckley's mental condition, no matter how slight, of danger to himself or others, or of elopement, Mr. Hinckley will immediately be returned to the hospital," the court said.

The judge wrote that Hinckley must also continue to take his psychotropic medication and must refuse to speak with the media.

"Should Mr. Hinckley fail to adhere to any of the conditions of release imposed on him by this order, this conditional release will be terminated immediately," Friedman's decision said.

Mark Corallo, the chief spokesman for Attorney General John Ashcroft, called Wednesday's decision "unfortunate."

"We are disappointed in the court's decision to grant John Hinckley Jr. limited conditional release under the supervision of his parents," Corallo said. "It is unfortunate that the concerns of the Reagan and Brady families were not accorded more weight in this decision."

In hearings earlier this month, Justice Department lawyers fought Hinckley's attempts to win unescorted visits with his family, despite testimony from several psychiatrists, including some who were formerly the government's own experts, that he no longer represents a threat.

Prosecutors argued that Hinckley still engages in "deception" and represents a potential danger to the community.

Ken Duberstein, Reagan's former chief of staff, said on CNN's "Inside Politics" he disagrees with the judge's decision.

"The idea that John Hinckley, who tried to kill our beloved Ronald Reagan, walks free on the streets of Washington? Who knows what he might, what havoc he might wreak," he said with disgust.

"Of course, he can't be unsupervised. He needs more than adult supervision. He needs police supervision," Duberstein said.

The court ruling also specifically forbids Hinckley from any contact with Leslie DeVeau, a former patient at St. Elizabeth's with whom Hinckley once had a romantic relationship.

It also requires that Hinckley follow a detailed itinerary developed by the hospital and submitted under seal to the court two weeks before each outing.

Government officials said such a requirement would give the Secret Service time to make the necessary arrangements, if it chooses to do so, to monitor Hinckley's travels, presumably from a distance, officials said.

All of Hinckley's past outings in which he was under hospital supervision were monitored by the Secret Service.

The Secret Service said it is reviewing the ruling to decide if it will monitor from afar Hinckley's visits with his parents.

"We continue to review the judge's order," said Secret Service spokesman Tom Mazur. "The Secret Service does not discuss issues of protective intelligence, and will not do so in this matter."

Government sources said privately after recent hearings that they expected the Secret Service to keep an eye on Hinckley whatever the judge ruled, but even in private Wednesday officials would not say any such decision has been made.


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