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Reagan's would-be assassin to get more time away from hospital

John Hinckley Jr. departs from the E. Barrett Prettyman U.S. District Court building in Washington, November 18, 2003. REUTERS/Brendan Smial
John Hinckley Jr. departs from the E. Barrett Prettyman U.S. District Court building in Washington, November 18, 2003. REUTERS/Brendan Smial

By David Ingram

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - John Hinckley is ready for more freedom from the mental hospital where he has lived since shortly after he shot President Ronald Reagan in a failed assassination attempt in 1981, a federal judge ruled on Friday.

U.S. District Judge Paul Friedman accepted a recommendation from St. Elizabeths Hospital that Hinckley be allowed to leave for 17 days a month, up from 10 days a month, to stay with his mother in Williamsburg, Virginia.

Hinckley shot Reagan in an attempt to impress actress Jodie Foster, with whom he was obsessed. A jury found him not guilty of attempted assassination by reason of insanity.

He was diagnosed with major depression and psychotic and narcissistic personality disorders.

As part of his therapy and reintegration into society, Hinckley has been allowed since 2006 to visit Williamsburg, a city about 150 miles south of St. Elizabeths in Washington, D.C.

During the visits, Hinckley volunteers in the cafeteria of a local mental hospital, sees a music therapist and is observed by clinical staff before returning to spend the balance of each month back at St. Elizabeths.

"The court believes that increasing the duration of his visits by seven days will not cause Mr. Hinckley to be a danger to himself or others," Friedman wrote in a 106-page opinion.

Prosecutors opposed the increased freedom, saying that Hinckley's behavior, including his secretiveness, suggests he might still be dangerous. A spokeswoman did not immediately return a call for comment on the ruling, nor did a lawyer for Hinckley.

Friedman also expanded Hinckley's freedom to use a car, ruling that he was ready to drive unaccompanied in Williamsburg so long as he is driving to a destination where he is expected.

The judge added that he was concerned about two occasions in 2011 when Hinckley lied about his whereabouts by telling authorities he would be at the movies and instead went to a nearby bookstore.

The dishonesty was isolated, though, so Hinckley should continue his visits, but submit detailed itineraries and carry a Global Positioning System-equipped cell phone, Friedman wrote.

(Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and Leslie Gevirtz)