John Hinckley jnr, the man who attempted to assassinate Ronald Reagan in 1981, was released from a mental hospital yesterday despite objections from Reagan's family and his soon-to-be neighbours.
Hinckley successfully pleaded insanity after shooting Reagan in the chest and wounding three others outside the Washington Hilton hotel, in an act inspired by his obsession with the actress Jodie Foster. Reagan's press secretary, James Brady, was permanently disabled after being shot in the head.
Hinckley was sent to St Elizabeth's psychiatric hospital in the south-eastern corner of Washington where he would remain for 35 years as a patient, and a subject of public fascination.
A judge ruled last month that Hinckley, now 61, no longer posed a threat to the public or to himself, setting the course for his release yesterday, and drawing the ire of one of Reagan's daughters. "Forgiving someone in your heart doesn't mean that you let them loose in Virginia to pursue whatever dark agendas they may still hold dear," Patti Davis, the third of Reagan's four surviving children, wrote.
Hinckley is to relocate from one secluded locale to another, moving in with his elderly mother to Kingsmill, a gated community in Williamsburg, Virginia. Some 9km from the stagecoaches and the tricorne hatted-reenactors of Colonial Williamsburg, Hinckley will settle into a home on the 13th hole of a golf course. His room has been decorated with paintings of houses and cats that he created while at St Elizabeth's, and furnished with a king size bed and television.
Some residents have protested over the arrival. One, Joe Mann, told the Washington Post: "It's not a matter of forgiveness but a matter of security."
Hinckley has been ordered to work or volunteer at least three days a week - he previously volunteered at a church and in the library and cafeteria of a mental hospital - and obtained his driver's licence in 2011. According to the conditions of his release, he can drive up to 48km unsupervised, or 80km if accompanied by his mother. Hinckley had already been allowed to visit his mother for days at a time. He will still have to see his doctors regularly.
In the 35 years since he fired a revolver six times at Reagan and his entourage, Hinckley has largely faded into obscurity. Amid the public outcry that followed the not guilty verdict, Congress passed a law making it more difficult to proceed with an insanity plea, and three states eliminated the defence altogether. Hinckley was portrayed in Assassins, the 1990 musical by Stephen Sondheim, and depicted in Calf, the 2015 novel.
His obsession with Foster, which started after he saw the film Taxi Driver, has served as the inspiration for several songs. For 22 years at St Elizabeth's he dated Leslie deVeau, the wealthy housewife who shot and killed her 10-year-old daughter in 1982. He also exchanged letters with Ted Bundy, the serial killer and rapist, and reached out to Charles Manson.