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For Hinckley, small steps toward an uncertain freedom

Although Hinckley was accosted at least once during an outing in the District by an angry resident who recognized him, he has ventured out undisturbed on hundreds of other occasions, with hospital employees or on his own.

In Williamsburg, by contrast, his social worker Carl Beffa found it nearly impossible to find Hinckley a volunteer job. The Humane Society, a local foundation, a homeless services group, a retirement home, a prison and the Salvation Army, among others, turned him down.

"I could not believe the response," Beffa testified at the 2008 hearings on Hinckley's request for more privileges. "Raising my children in that community . . . it totally shocked me."

Dennis Grannan, who runs Vibrant Life Ministries, a homeless-services organization, was open to hiring Hinckley. "It was in my heart to help him," he says. But his board didn't want to invite controversy.

Hinckley got an even colder reception from a singles group. His sister, Diane Sims, testified in 2008 that as soon as they arrived at the potluck event, the group leader told them Hinckley's presence made her uncomfortable.

Hinckley has had better luck with Williamsburg's clergy. Over the past year, he had several hour-long meetings with the Rev. Harry Warren, a 74-year-old Baptist minister who has counseled murderers and mental patients. "We talked easily," says Warren, describing Hinckley as reserved and pleasant. "We didn't go into great depth about anything. I was there just to listen."

The Williamsburg Unitarian Universalists have also welcomed Hinckley, offering him a volunteer job in their library. The Rev. Jennifer Ryu says her board agreed after being assured by Hinckley's minders and his brother that Hinckley posed no danger to himself or others. "He needs a community," Ryu says. "He needs to socialize. We believe in leaving no one out of our circle."

Hinckley has not taken the Unitarians up on their offer. And prosecutors are likely to use that to ding him for laziness. In 2008, they said that he would "go to great lengths to contact women, play and record his music, and arrange for art lessons" but lacked initiative when it came to finding a job.

"Well, what's new about that?" countered Hinckley's attorney, Barry Levine. "Many people prefer art and music and social relationships to hard work. Can it be said . . . that makes them dangerous?"

In Kingsmill, Hinckley's regular visits have put some residents at ease. "As far as I am concerned, he was always welcome," says a woman who lives at the end of Jo Ann Hinckley's block and declined to give her name. Before Jack Hinckley died, she frequently saw father and son walking. These days, she is more likely to see the younger Hinckley behind the wheel, his mother at his side.

A few blocks away, some homeowners express concern about what will come next. "The question is, what is it going to be like when he is unsupervised 24-7?" says longtime resident John Shulson. "In the back of my head, I have doubts."

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