Would-be Reagan assassin cleared for daytrips
July 26, 1999
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- John W. Hinckley Jr. will soon be able to take daytrips away from the psychiatric hospital where he has been detained since shooting President Ronald Reagan in 1981, CNN has learned.
After years of vigorous court battles, the Justice Department declined Monday to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to block the excursions, allowing Hinckley to leave the grounds of St. Elizabeth's Hospital to visit family and friends. Monday was the deadline for the department to file its appeal.
Hinckley's daytrips could begin at any time.
"I hope they appreciate that their position has been oppressive and wrong at law," Hinckley's attorney, Barry Levine, said in an interview. "To try to treat John differently than thousands of patients before him is plainly wrong."
Because there were no dissenters in two federal appeals court rulings, the Justice Department did not believe the Supreme Court would review the case, one government lawyer close to the case told CNN.
The daytrips, which were approved by the hospital in 1997, would last only a few hours. Hospital staff would accompany Hinckley, and the U.S. Secret Service would monitor his movements.
But a series of successful daytrips could lead to more freedom for Hinckley. In its opinion earlier this year, the appeals court wrote that the daytrips "serve as a crucial precursor for a patient's re-entry into larger society."
Any request by Hinckley for a "conditional or unconditional release" is not affected by this decision and would need separate court approval.
Hospital officials and the Secret Service would not comment on the Justice Department's decision or Hinckley's current status or treatment.
Earlier this year, an appeals court overturned a U.S. District Court judge's 1997 decision blocking Hinckley's daytrips.
Prosecutors argued at appeal that Hinckley, 43, was disturbed and unpredictable despite years of treatment at the mental institution.
"We believe that the potential impact of the opinion on public safety presents an issue of exceptional importance which should be reconsidered," Washington, D.C., U.S. Attorney Wilma Lewis told the court.
Hinckley's attorney responded, arguing that his client's mental condition was much improved but the government was determined to keep him from returning to society.
"The government doesn't interfere when they (doctors) want to take someone bowling, or to a funeral. This is only because it's John Hinckley. They want to keep him in the institution for the rest of his life," Levine told the court.
In 1982, Hinckley was found not guilty by reason of insanity in the shooting of Reagan, Press Secretary James Brady and two law enforcement officers. Hinckley said the shooting was an attempt to impress actress Jodie Foster.
Producer Ted Barrett contributed to this report.
Man who shot Reagan wins mental hospital release
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