Reagan shooter John Hinckley released from US psychiatric hospital - report

John Hinckley Jr arriving at a court in Washington DC on Nov 19, 2003.
John Hinckley Jr arriving at a court in Washington DC on Nov 19, 2003. PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON (AFP) - John Hinckley, the man who tried to assassinate president Ronald Reagan 35 years ago, was freed from a psychiatric hospital in Washington on Saturday (Sept 11), a report said.

Hinckley was released from St Elizabeths Hospital, the Washington Post reported, citing his lawyer Barry Levine, who had confirmed that his client would leave in the morning, and a witness on the sprawling hospital campus.

Phyllis Jones, a spokeswoman for the city's Department of Behavioural Health, told AFP that "all discharges planned for today have taken place" but said she could not comment on specific patients.

Levine was not immediately available for comment when contacted by AFP.

A federal judge ruled in July that Hinckley, 61, no longer posed a threat to himself or others and would be permitted to live with his 90-year-old mother in her gated community in Williamsburg, Virginia - under a strict set of conditions.

Since the 1990s, Hinckley has been permitted gradually longer supervised home visits with his mother, lasting up to 17 days. Secret Service agents have tracked him during each trip.

Hinckley, who was declared not guilty on grounds of insanity, said after the March 30, 1981 shooting outside a Washington hotel that he wanted to kill Reagan to impress actress Jodie Foster, whom he became obsessed with after watching the film Taxi Driver.

Reagan's family and his presidential foundation have consistently opposed Hinckley's release.

Daughter Patti Reagan Davis wrote on her website in 2015 that "I hope the doctors are right when they say that John Hinckley isn't a danger to anyone, but something in me feels they are wrong."

One thing troubling her, she said, was that while at St Elizabeths, Hinckley had written to convicted mass murderers Ted Bundy and Charles Manson.

But Levine has argued since 2003 that evaluations by the hospital's officials showed that Hinckley no longer posed any threat.

Three other men, including Reagan press secretary James Brady, were badly wounded in Hinckley's attack.

The attempt on Reagan's life sparked intense debate over gun violence and treatment of the mentally ill. Brady, who was left paralyzed, became a leading advocate for tougher gun controls.

When Brady died in 2014, a medical examiner attributed his death to the injuries received 33 years earlier, but no additional charges were filed against Hinckley.

The court order places dozens of detailed conditions on Hinckley's "full-time convalescent leave" from St Elizabeths, including a ban on contact with Foster, but said they can be phased out after a year to 18 months if he continues to make progress.

Hinckley must remain within 80km of his mother's home, and cannot travel to any area where a current or former president, vice president or member of Congress is known to be.

He must return to St Elizabeths for monthly monitoring and notify the Secret Service in advance about his intended route of travel.

He cannot post any writings or memorabilia on the internet or display them in person without authorisation. He also cannot speak to the media.

The detailed conditions even include a requirement for monthly music therapy sessions with a board-certified music therapist.

St Elizabeths, Hinckley's home for most of the past 35 years, opened in 1855, and was the first federally-run psychiatric hospital.

Though it once housed as many as 8,000 patients - many of them indigent - the ageing facility is being phased out and now holds only a few hundred.