John Hinckley, who the AP calls "the last man to shoot an American president," was 25 years old when he opened fire on President Reagan in 1981. More than three decades after he was found not guilty by reason of insanity, he's been increasingly getting reacquainted with society; over the last year or so, he's spent 17 days a month outside the mental institution he's long called home. He spends that time in Williamsburg, Va., where his mother has a home overlooking a golf course in a gated community. There, he attempts some semblance of normal life: Volunteering, painting, eating at Wendy's, meeting with his psychiatrist and therapist. A hearing this week will determine whether Hinckley's freedom might further expand.
Hinckley's psychosis and depression have been deemed under control for decades, his narcissistic personality disorder diminished, and his lawyer says he has a "decidedly low" risk of being dangerous. Still, his notoriety follows him and prosecutors maintain that he's not ready for release. "All it takes is one slip, one flip of whatever in the brain caused him to do what he did before," says one resident of Hinckley's gated community. He was turned down for various volunteer positions before a librarian at a mental hospital agreed to take him. "I think John's paid for what he did. He was in a totally different mind at that time. He was psychotic," she says. "I think he needs to be given the opportunity at this stage to try to have some kind of a life."