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Mental hospital wants to release failed Reagan assassin John Hinckley Jr.

By James Polk, CNN Senior Producer
updated 11:48 AM EDT, Tue October 4, 2011
John Hinckley, seen here in 2003, has been allowed brief furloughs from a Washington mental hospital to visit his mother.
John Hinckley, seen here in 2003, has been allowed brief furloughs from a Washington mental hospital to visit his mother.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Hospital requests longer visits to Virginia, then convalescent leave
  • Government argues he is still "capable of great violence"
  • Man was committed in 1982 after shooting Reagan, 3 others
  • Judge to hold hearings in late November

Washington (CNN) -- The government mental hospital where John Hinckley Jr. has spent most of the last 30 years since he shot and tried to kill President Ronald Reagan is asking a federal court to allow Hinckley's eventual release to live with or near his aging mother in Williamsburg, Virginia.

The prosecution, in its own filing with the court on Friday, described Hinckley as "a man capable of great violence" and said his mental condition has not improved to the point of eliminating concerns "that this violence may be repeated."

U.S. District Judge Paul Friedman has scheduled up to a week of court hearings on the issue to start November 28, the Monday after Thanksgiving.

Hinckley is now 56. He was committed to St. Elizabeths Hospital in 1982 after a jury found him innocent by reason of insanity in the shooting of President Reagan and three others, including the president's severely wounded press secretary, James Brady.

The hospital's lawyers and doctors filed their motion under seal, withheld from the public, when they asked at the end of this past July that Hinckley eventually be placed on "convalescent leave."

But government lawyers quoted the hospital's proposal, making it part of the court's public record, in their response Friday in opposing his release.

The day that changed presidential security forever

According to the government, the hospital has asked first for a series of extended visits to Williamsburg and then, "it be given the sole discretion to place Hinckley on convalescent leave in his mother's hometown."

His widowed mother, Jo Ann Hinckley, is now 85. She lives in a gated resort development not far from the James River in Williamsburg. Hinckley has been allowed several visits with her for up to a week and a half at a time over the last couple of years.

But he has been required to carry a GPS tracking device when away from the house and the Secret Service has kept watch on his movements. That surveillance would be loosened under the hospital's proposal.

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Under the hospital's current proposal, Hinckley would be permitted eight longer visits to Williamsburg, the first two for 17 days each, the rest for 24 days each. After that, the prosecution filing said, the hospital wants to release Hinckley on leave "without any further review" by the court.

Hinckley was a college dropout, drifting around the country, living off his family's money, when he waited for President Reagan to walk out of a Washington hotel where he had been speaking on March 30, 1981. Hinckley emptied his six-shot .22 revolver at the president.

He wounded Brady, a policeman and a Secret Service agent before his last shot ricocheted off the president's armor-plated limousine and struck Reagan beneath his left armpit as he was being shoved into the car by other agents.

The bullet penetrated within an inch of the president's heart. One lung flooded with blood. Reagan lost half his body's blood supply. Doctors said that had the Secret Service not rushed the president to a nearby hospital as quickly as they did, he might well have died.

Brady suffered a serious brain injury and never was able to return to his White House duties.

In his hotel room that day, Hinckley left behind a letter addressed to child actress Jodie Foster, with whom he was infatuated. It began:

"There is a definite possibility that I may be killed in my attempt to get Reagan." Hinckley wrote he was doing this to try to win her love. Foster would later say she didn't even know who Hinckley was.

A federal judge committed Hinckley to St. Elizabeths Hospital after a jury found him not guilty by reason of insanity in the spring of 1982.

Doctors have told the court in previous hearings that Hinckley's mental problems are in remission. Government lawyers disputed that in their latest filing, saying:

"There is recent evidence of deception toward his treating physicians as well as narcissism, both of which are significant risk factors for future violence."

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