Patti Davis on Freedom for Dad Ronald Reagan's Attempted Assassin: 'You Just Have to Live with the Fear'

An attorney for John Hinckley Jr., who is now symptom-free, told PEOPLE that he is "very sympathetic to the feelings of Ms. Davis and of her family"

patti davis
Photo: Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times via Getty

Patti Davis reacted with consternation over a judge's decision to grant John Hinckley Jr., whom the court says is now symptom-free, complete freedom four decades after he attempted to assassinate her father, President Ronald Regan.

Citing findings that Hinckley — who was found not guilty by reason of insanity at the end of a federal trial in 1982 — no longer shows symptoms of mental illness or any inclination for violence, U.S. District Court Judge Paul L. Friedman ruled Monday that all restrictions on Hinckley's release will be removed in June 2022.

He had been living on his own for several years, under a list of conditions, after decades in a mental health hospital.

"Everybody is comfortable now after all of the studies, all of the analysis and all of the interviews and all of the experience with Mr. Hinckley," the judge said Monday, according to the Associated Press.

But that is not the case for Davis, 68, who wrote an emotional op-ed on Monday night in The Washington Post about recollections of her father and three others being shot outside a hotel in Washington, D.C. Hinckley, who was diagnosed with acute psychosis, was infatuated with Jodie Foster at the time and had hoped the act of violence would get the actress's attention.

"People's memories have faded. That burst of gunfire outside the Washington Hilton was a long time ago. I have friends who weren't even born then," Davis wrote in the Post. "But for me, for my family, for Foster, the memory of that day will never fade."

"In my mind's eye, I will always picture Hinckley's cold eyes as he blew open White House press secretary Jim Brady's head, as he wounded Secret Service Special Agent Tim McCarthy and Metropolitan Police Department Officer Thomas Delahanty," Davis wrote. "I will always picture my father being shoved into the limousine after a shot struck his lung and nearly grazed his heart."

While the other victims, including Reagan, recovered, Brady died in 2014. The coroner determined it was a homicide because of his injuries from the attempted assassination, which was captured by television cameras at the time.

Ronald Reagan and his daughter
Bettmann/ Getty

Hinckley's attorney Barry Levine said after the judge's ruling that his client has expressed his "heartfelt" apologies and "profound regret" to the people he shot, their families as well as to Foster and the American people, according to news reports.

In her op-ed, Davis wrote, "I understand struggling for forgiveness, but it's like peering out from between the prison bars. I don't believe that John Hinckley feels remorse. He and his attorney have worked the system from the beginning and, finding a judge who was sympathetic to them, made this day inevitable."

Levine told PEOPLE on Tuesday that he and his client are "very sympathetic to the feelings of Ms. Davis and of her family."

John Hinckley Jr.
Evan Vucci/AP/Shutterstock

Asked for a reaction the op-ed by Davis, Levine also said that he understands that she is "justifiably emotional."

"We are a nation of laws," Hinckley's attorney continued. "The laws require that they be administered evenhandedly. That is why in our system victims do not apply or enforce the law. That would amount to vigilante justice, which of course would be a perversion of the law."

Levine also defended the legal process and how it handled Hinckley's case over the years.

"The judge applied the evidence and the science to come to his conclusion after great evaluation and deliberation, which are reflected in his many opinions," he said.

reagan family
The Reagan family. Bettmann/ Getty

The Reagan Foundation and Institute, a nonprofit and nonpartisan organization dedicated to promoting and preserving the legacy of the former president, released a statement on Monday expressing its disappointment with the decision in Hinckley's case and calling for a reversal.

"The Reagan Foundation and Institute is saddened to hear of the decision to unconditionally release John Hinckley Jr., the man responsible for the attempted assassination of President Reagan, a shooting that gravely wounded three other brave men," the statement reads. "Contrary to the judges' decision, we believe John Hinckley is still a threat to others and we strongly oppose his release. Our hope is that the Justice Department will file a motion with the court leading to a reversal of this decision."

Hinckley spent the years after his 1982 not guilty verdict as a psychiatric patient at Washington's Saint Elizabeths Hospital until 2016 when the judge ruled he could be released with restrictions, which included mandatory therapy and continued medical care as well as orders not to contact Reagan's children, his other victims, their families or Foster.

The end of those restrictions, Davis wrote her op-ed, is anguishing.

"Now there is another fear — that the man who wielded that gun and almost got his wish of assassinating the president could decide to contact me," she writes. "There is no manual for how to deal with something like this. You can't Google it or look for reference material. You just have to live with the fear, and the anger, and the darkness that one person keeps bringing into your life."

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