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Would-be Reagan assassin John Hinckley Jr. is freed

WASHINGTON — The man who tried to assassinate President Ronald Reagan 35 years ago has gone home — this time it seems, for good.

John W. Hinckley Jr. was released from St. Elizabeths Hospital on Saturday morning, the culmination of his decades-long rehabilitation in a Washington mental hospital.

A federal judge ordered his release in July, finding the would-be assassin no longer posed a danger to others after being found not guilty by reason of insanity in the shooting of the president and three others outside a Washington hotel in 1981.

Hinckley will live with his 90-year-old mother in Williamsburg, Va., a community that has been an ambivalent host during the scores of increasingly longer visits he has made since 2006. Now, Hinckley, 61, faces the task of putting together a life outside the institution.

At the time of the shooting, Hinckley was a troubled 25-year-old obsessed with actor Jodie Foster and the movie Taxi Driver. He began stalking Reagan, and on March 30, 1981, shot the president, press secretary James Brady, a U.S. Secret Service agent and a District of Columbia police officer. Brady suffered brain damage and died from his injuries in 2014. The others recovered from their injuries.

Hinckley's successful insanity defense before a jury outraged the country and prompted changes that narrowed the application of that legal strategy. Reagan later forgave Hinckley.

Some in Kingsmill, the gated Williamsburg community Hinckley will call home, said forgiveness is beside the point.

"It's not a matter of forgiveness but a matter of security," said Joe Mann, a critic of the release who lives about a half-mile from Hinckley's mother.

Hinckley's longtime defense attorney Barry Wm. Levine called that "misplaced fear," citing a lengthy court opinion based on medical experts who testified that Hinckley was stable and had been in remission for more than 27 years.

"If those people who have concerns were fully informed, they'd have nothing to worry about," said Levine, who confirmed that Hinckley would leave the hospital Saturday.

On the hospital campus Saturday morning, a man who was attending a home-buying conference watched as Hinckley emerged from a secure part of the building to load a small duffel bag, pet carrier and pet food into a waiting SUV. As Hinckley walked past, the man said he heard people from the hospital saying goodbye to Hinckley.