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Reagan shooter John Hinckley wants more time out of detention

The psychiatric hospital that holds John Hinckley Jr., who shot President Reagan in 1981, is petitioning in federal court in the hope that he will eventually be allowed to live near his mother in Virginia.

November 30, 2011|By Michael Muskal, Los Angeles Times
  • An undated picture of John Hinckley Jr. in front of the White House. Hinckley shot President Reagan in 1981, and is now trying to get permission to spend more time away from his psychiatric hospital.
An undated picture of John Hinckley Jr. in front of the White House. Hinckley…

John Hinckley Jr., who shot President Reagan more than 30 years ago, is pushing to spend more time outside of his Washington psychiatric facility in hopes of eventually being allowed to live near his mother.

His campaign has landed in federal court, with Wednesday marking the first day of proceedings before Judge Paul L. Friedman of the District Court for the District of Columbia.

Hinckley's attorney, Barry Levine, argued that the gunman, now 56, had shed his violent behavior. But government lawyers were insistent that Hinckley was still a danger, even though his mental health had improved.

PHOTOS: President Reagan's shooting

"Hinckley's narcissism, one of his core psychiatric diagnoses and a risk factor for his future dangerousness to himself and others, also remains intact," the government charged in its court papers. "The signs of this illness continue despite years of therapy and medication."

It was during the afternoon of March, 30, 1981, that Hinckley fired six shots at Reagan, who was leaving a Washington hotel after giving a speech to a labor organization.

Hinckley had become fascinated by the 1976 movie "Taxi Driver," whose anti-hero is mentally ill and planning to kill a presidential candidate. He also had become infatuated with actress Jodie Foster, who played a young prostitute in the movie. Hinckley has said he planned his violence to impress Foster.

Reagan recovered and served two full terms as president before he died in 2004. White House Press Secretary James Brady was shot and permanently disabled in the incident, later becoming one of the nation's leading voices against gun violence. A Secret Service agent and a police officer were also wounded in the attack.

A jury in 1982 found Hinckley not guilty by reason of insanity, and he was sent to St. Elizabeths Hospital, a psychiatric facility operated by the District of Columbia's Department of Mental Health.

The current proceeding is at the request of the hospital, which wants to be able to allow Hinckley to have extended visits outside the facility — with the idea that he could eventually live near his 85-year-old mother in Williamsburg, Va.

According to the government, Friedman on July 20, 2009, granted Hinckley 12 visits of 10 nights' duration each in Virginia, including unaccompanied time in Hinckley's mother's gated community and in the general community for "recreational and social activities."

The hospital is seeking to allow Hinckley two visits of 17 days and six visits of 24 days. After those visits, the hospital could, without further court review, allow Hinckley to be moved to Virginia.

But the office of U.S. Atty. Ronald C. Machen Jr. argued that the hospital's proposal was "premature and ill conceived" because Hinckley "is not sufficiently well to alleviate the concern that this violence may be repeated."

The hearing is expected to take several days.

michael.muskal@latimes.com

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