Thirty-five years after he shot President Ronald Reagan and three others outside a D.C. hotel, John W. Hinckley Jr. will be released from a government psychiatric hospital, reported the Washington Post.
The ruling ends the institutionalization of the one of the nation’s most notorious mental health patients.
Outrage over Hinckley’s acquittal in the 1981 shooting reshaped the insanity defense in courts across the country. The revelation that he had pulled the trigger to impress a movie star added obsession and celebrity to the case. And extraordinary television footage of the attack on the 40th U.S. president brought the event to millions of American homes.
In Wednesday’s court order, U.S. District Judge Paul L. Friedman wrote that Hinckley, 61, no longer poses a danger to himself or others and will be freed to live full time with his mother in Williamsburg, Va. His release could come as early as Aug. 5 and is subject to dozens of conditions, some of which could be phased out after a year if Hinckley adheres to them.
After an eight-week trial, a federal jury in Washington found Hinckley not guilty by reason of insanity in June 1982 of all 13 counts against him, setting off a sharp public backlash. The federal government and 38 states subsequently rewrote laws to raise the standard of proof required for the insanity defense, which is now rarely used and is even more rarely successful.
Some research has found that defendants successfully raise an insanity defense in 1 of 500 felony cases nationwide and that of that small pool, defendants are freed between 5 and 65 percent of the time depending on the jurisdiction, making Hinckley’s release all the more exceptional.
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