John Hinckley Jr. Gets Released From Mental Hospital, But Now What?

John Hinckley Jr. Gets Released From Mental Hospital, But Now What?

John Hinckley Jr. Gets Released From Mental Hospital, But Now What?

If you are any student of American history, the name “John Hinckley Jr.” is a significant one. And if you are old enough, it instantly conjures up sounds and images that are forever immortalized on film.

At the time of the assassination attempt 35 years ago, Hinckley was 25, obsessed with getting the attention of actress Jodie Foster, and fixated on becoming infamous so she would love him. He was found not guilty by reason of insanity and institutionalized at St. Elizabeths Hospital in Washington DC. Hinckley’s parents were wealthy, and moved from Colorado to Virginia in order to be near him.

John Hinckley Jr., then and now (mugshot courtesy of the FBI, current photo by Jae Donnelly for
John Hinckley Jr., then and now (mugshot courtesy of the FBI, current photo by Jae Donnelly for
The Reagan family has steadfastly spoken out against the increasing freedoms that Hinckley has gained over the years, which began with “field trips” from the hospital with other patients, and eventually evolved into overnight visits with his mother, Jo Ann. Once Hinckley was allowed out, the march forward to releasing him seemed inevitable. And now, a judge has finally signed off on it.

That final release could happen quickly.

The release could happen as early as next week, the judge ruled. Under the terms of the order, Hinckley is not allowed to contact his victims, their relatives or actress Jodie Foster, with whom he was obsessed. Hinckley also will not be permitted to “knowingly travel” to areas where the current president or members of Congress are present. The judge said Hinckley could be allowed to live on his own or in a group home after one year.

“Mr. Hinckley shall abide by all laws, shall not consume alcohol, illegal drugs… shall not possess any firearm, weapon, or ammunition and shall not be arrested for cause,” Senior U.S. District Judge Paul Friedman ordered.

As can be imagined, the other parties involved are upset.

In a prepared statement, the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Institute said, “Contrary to the judge’s decision, we believe John Hinckley is still a threat to others and we strongly oppose his release.”

After the news this morning, Michael Reagan tried to put a brave face on it.

I understand where Michael Reagan is coming from, but Patti Davis has argued that she does not believe that Hinckley’s mental illness can be cured, only controlled, and that his lawyer has humanized him to the media.

He ended up with attorney who is also patient, who has been willing to take his time and move slowly to get what he wants: freedom for John Hinckley. In 1982 when the verdict came down — not guilty by reason of insanity — the nation was shocked. Dan Rather said on his nightly broadcast, “If John Hinckley has the will (and he’s shown he is willful) and the way (and his family is rich), he will probably down the road ask to be released from Saint Elizabeths on the grounds that he is no longer dangerous. And sooner or later, a panel of experts may nod and say yes.” I remember getting chilled when I heard Mr. Rather’s commentary all those years ago. Something in me knew he was right even though everything in me hoped he was wrong. Now I hope the doctors are right when they say that John Hinckley isn’t a danger to anyone, but something in me feels they are wrong.

Jodie Foster has always refused to publicly comment on John Hinckley, but it has to be unsettling that she has to be named within the judge’s release order to Hinckley.

There are problems with Hinckley’s impending release, however. The order will allow him to live with his mother in her gated community within Williamsburg, Virginia. The community members are openly unhappy about it, and Hinckley has been pretty much shut out of every volunteer and employment opportunity within that area.

Around Kingsmill, most locals admire Mrs. Hinckley’s devotion to her son. Joe Mann, a resident for decades, says some even sympathize. That’s as far as the goodwill goes, though. “People here are not in favor of the situation with Hinckley’s visits, taking his mom’s car and running around town,” Mann says of the genteel retirees who prize Kingsmill’s privacy and quiet.

“They just don’t have the gumption to do anything about it.”
Mann, a retired executive, has been doing something: penning spirited editorials in the Virginia Gazette and taking to his personal blog to speak out against the prospect of Hinckley taking up permanent residency. “You’ve got all these people saying what a sweet guy he is,” Mann tells Washingtonian. “Holy Christ! He’s a sweet guy, all right, but he shot up the President of the United States. . . . There’s no way you can cure whatever was in his brain that caused him to do what he did back then.”

For the most part, the town has actively shunned Hinckley—albeit in a quieter fashion than Mann. Hinckley has tried to find volunteer work and get involved in the community, socialization that’s important to a judge evaluating his ability to live independently. He has solicited the Williamsburg Methodist Church, the law library at William & Mary, the Williamsburg Botanical Garden, the Salvation Army, a seniors program, and a church-sponsored food pantry called FISH, among others. They have all rejected him, court filings show.

The other, more glaring problem, is that Mrs. Hinckley is 90 years old. While she is currently in reported good health, and has a “good” relationship with her son, it means that an elderly woman will be the legal guardian/financial support to a 61 year old man who is required to stay on medication. There has been little discussion about the “what ifs” when Jo Ann Hinckley can no longer supervise her son – only that if his siblings cannot come to Williamsburg to care for him, he will have to return to the hospital.

Hinckley’s brother and sister told the court they know their mom is getting old and they promised the judge they’d step in to help if needed. In his order, the judge said if Hinckley’s relatives “are unable to travel to Williamsburg or remain in Williamsburg with Mr. Hinckley, Mr. Hinckley shall be returned to inpatient status at the hospital.”

The judge, of course, can always change that part of his order.

And Hinckley has been required to lead a very structured, scheduled life when outside of the hospital – always with the Secret Service watching. Sometimes, that has not gone well – as in a recent instance when his photography instructor called in sick, and he decided to stop by a recording studio, without permission, instead.

When he left the studio, he knew he had screwed up. Any adjustments to Hinckley’s furlough agendas must be reported to his caseworker. It was a grave lapse in judgment—he hadn’t committed so alarming an offense in roughly four years, since the Barnes & Noble pit stops, and his handlers were perturbed. Yet when Hinckley was questioned about the incident later, he downplayed it.

“I did not record anything while I was there. Maybe at some point I want to record, but I will clear it before I do,” he explained. “I want to record at a studio just for the sound of it. [The producer] is an excellent musician, so he would be great on any recording.”

Then he became defiant: “Things come up spur of the moment, and there is a quick change.” In a separate interview, he lamented, “You expect me to live the rest of my life by an itinerary? I can’t do it. No one can do it.”

Hinckley takes Risperdal for psychosis, although his records show that the illness has been in remission for years. Managing his narcissistic personality disorder is trickier. Classic traits of the condition include a grandiose sense of self, a preoccupation with fantasies, a tendency to exploit people, and a lack of empathy. Meds can do little to alleviate the most pernicious manifestations.

That’s why for a neighbor like Joe Mann, an unannounced Hinckley outing to a local music studio in the heart of brick-and-cobblestone Williamsburg is a worrisome omen. “These psychotropic drugs don’t cure anything—all they do is suppress,” Mann says. “All it takes is to miss a dose or two and they might as well have never been on it.”

And yet, thanks to a well-paid lawyer, medication, and an elderly mother still wealthy enough (for now) to keep paying for it all, John Hinckley Jr. is going to be released. For those who think he truly has changed for the better in the last 35 years, and will never relapse again, I offer you this challenge – do you want him moving in next door to you? Can anyone who committed the crimes Hinckley committed really ever move past them, especially when he requires therapy and medication to keep those impulses in check? How much risk are we willing to accept when a man who tried (and nearly succeeded) in murdering a sitting president is set free?

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  • Jacmo says:

    If the judge wants him free then the judge should have him first move into his neighborhood for several years.

  • GWB says:

    Several points……

    First, why should this attempted murderer be treated any differently than any other? Why should the fact that his target was a President make the crime any worse? Treason? Maybe.

    Second, the “insanity defense” has been so messed up by progressivism. It’s supposed to be used for those who don’t actually grasp that what they did was wrong. Lenny hugging someone so hard they pop is what it’s for- not some guy wanting to commit murder to impress a chick. That’s insane, but, it doesn’t remove his responsibility! But, the progs are all about making people “better”, rather than holding them responsible.

    Third, I would let him move in next to me. I’m armed and alert. If the law says he can be let go, then I’m willing to give him a shot. But, yeah, I’ll be watching him like a hawk.

    Classic traits of the condition include a grandiose sense of self, a preoccupation with fantasies, a tendency to exploit people, and a lack of empathy.

    Well, by this standard, maybe 0bama can get his room once Hinckley moves out………

    • Jodi says:

      GWB: “Well, by this standard, maybe 0bama can get his room once Hinckley moves out………”

      Ha! You beat me to it!

  • Nina says:

    There’s a thought… I mean Obama DID refer to himself 119 times in his speech last night. That does fit the “grandiose sense of self” part quite nicely don’t you think?

  • […] Hospital in Washington D.C. In 2016, 35 years after the assassination attempt, John Hinckley was released to his mother’s supervision to live in her gated community. Jo Ann Hinckley died in August 2021, and after her death, John […]

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