District judge's decision angers Reagan family

Friday, December 19, 2003

WASHINGTON -- Former President Reagan's son Michael, denouncing as "an outrage" a judge's decision to allow John Hinckley Jr. unsupervised visits with his parents, questioned Thursday whether the Hinckleys would be able to prevent their son from harming himself or others. The former president's family has reacted with dismay to U.S. District Judge Paul L. Friedman's decision Wednesday that the man who tried to assassinate Reagan may have six visits with his parents without staff from the mental hospital where he has lived for more than two decades.

"They're saying, 'He's fine, he's on his meds,"' Michael Reagan said. "He gets off his meds, does that mean everybody has to duck?"

He said that Hinckley has never apologized to the victims or to the families of the people he wounded. Reagan noted that his father suffers from Alzheimer's disease and is being cared for at home in California. Nancy Reagan, Michael Reagan said, has "enough to deal with" without knowing "that the man who shot her husband is now going to be free to roam."

Mrs. Reagan has issued a statement saying she believes Hinckley still posed a danger to the public.

The judge placed a number of strict conditions on Hinckley's visits and rejected Hinckley's request to travel to his parents' home in Williamsburg, Va., about three hours south of Washington. He said a detailed schedule must be submitted to him two weeks before each unsupervised visit.

Each of the unsupervised visits may last 12 hours. If they go well, he and his parents may be allowed two 32-hour overnight visits within 50 miles of the capital.

"Just to have him out and to have him be free is an outrage," Michael Reagan said in another interview, on CBS' "The Early Show."

While government lawyers fought Hinckley's request, U.S. Attorney Roscoe C. Howard Jr. took some solace in that Friedman rejected any visits outside the Washington area.

"In light of the evidence, we believe the court properly denied Mr. Hinckley's request for overnight and day visits to his parents' home," he said. "Our concern, among others, has always been whether Mr. Hinckley will endanger himself or others if granted an unescorted release."

Hinckley, 48, has lived at St. Elizabeths Hospital in Washington since 1982, when he was acquitted by reason of insanity in the shootings of Reagan, presidential press secretary James Brady and two law enforcement officers. Reagan was nearly killed and Brady was permanently disabled. Hinckley said he shot Reagan to impress actress Jodie Foster.

Former first lady Nancy Reagan said she and her family were disappointed by the ruling.

"Although the judge limited Mr. Hinckley's travel to the Washington, D.C., area, we continue to fear for the safety of the general public," she said in a statement. "Our thoughts are with all of Mr. Hinckley's victims today, especially Jim Brady and his family, as they must continue to live with the tragic consequences of the assassination attempt."

Hinckley has been allowed supervised visits off the hospital grounds for several years and has made about 200 such trips to theaters, bowling alleys, beaches and bookstores.

Hospital officials have said there have been no problems with Hinckley on his supervised trips away from the hospital. The Secret Service watches Hinckley whenever he leaves the hospital.

During five days of hearings on Hinckley's request, psychiatrists testifying for Hinckley, the government and the hospital said his mental health had improved to the point where he would not be a threat to himself or others if he were to leave the hospital for visits with his parents.

"Every expert . . . -- not only Mr. Hinckley's expert witnesses but also the expert witness retained by the government -- have expressed their opinion that under a highly structured, limited conditional release, Mr. Hinckley will, to a reasonable medical certainty, not be a danger to himself or others," Friedman said in a 50-page opinion.

Hinckley's lawyer, Barry W. Levine, said his client was entitled under the law to receive unsupervised visits, and the judge's conditions should alleviate any concerns about public safety.

"The rule of law applies equally to Mr. Hinckley as to everyone else," Levine said. "An opposition based on fear or an opposition based on a need for revenge or a sense of bitterness is an opposition that is sadly but woefully misplaced."

On the Net:

Judge's decision: http://www.dcd.uscourts.gov/81cr306c.pdf

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