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For Hinckley, small steps toward an uncertain freedom

Friedman has addressed such concerns by imposing a slew of restrictions. At least four days before going to Williamsburg, Hinckley must give the court the names and addresses of places he plans to go. Whenever he leaves his mother's subdivision, he must take her or a sibling. After each excursion, his family has to fill out a report on his behavior. Hinckley can surf the Internet only with family supervision or with controls that limit his access to certain sites.

Hinckley must also meet with Beffa and a psychiatrist on every trip to Williamsburg. He has to carry a GPS-enabled cellphone so hospital officials and the Secret Service can verify his whereabouts. The Secret Service also dispatches agents to keep an eye on him.

All that surveillance makes it hard for Hinckley to achieve a main therapeutic objective of the trips: to make friends and meet women, or, as the court order put it, "integrating himself into his mother's community."

Hinckley hasn't had a steady girlfriend since Leslie deVeau, a former patient at St. Elizabeths. After more than a decade, the relationship ended in 2007. His doctors testified that deVeau could no longer take the scrutiny from the Secret Service, reporters, the hospital and the court.

Because Hinckley's obsession with Foster inspired his attack, psychiatrists and lawyers devote much energy to dissecting his interactions with women. In 1997, a judge denied his request for more time with his parents because of the intense attention he began paying to St. Elizabeths chief pharmacist Jeannette Wick. More recently, the government and his attorneys have debated whether his behavior toward women is concerning or merely hapless.

For a guy who spends most of his time confined to an institution or chaperoned by his elderly mother, Hinckley has a busy love life. He has been romantically involved with at least two women and befriended several others. Nicole Rafanello, one of his doctors, testified that he tended to "stockpile" women because he was starved for female attention and needed "backups."

He had a rocky relationship with a woman identified in court papers as "Ms. M," who started as a friend but at some point granted him what Hinckley called "fondling privileges." Ms. M suffered from bipolar disorder, and Hinckley's doctors said she could be unpredictable and say hurtful things about his family.

Hinckley was also involved with a woman identified as "Ms. G," whom his sister described as "energetic," "vivacious" and taken. She had a live-in boyfriend. Prosecutors cited both liaisons as evidence of Hinckley's poor judgment and troubling tendency to pursue unrealistic romances.

The judge didn't buy it.

At one point during the 2008 hearings, Levine asked rhetorically whether people should be locked up for bad judgment in romantic relationships. Friedman interjected: "We don't have enough room."

Back at St. Elizabeths, Hinckley is spending his last days at the John Howard Pavilion doing what he always does: sitting outside, reading. In the coming weeks, he will move next door into the hospital's new glass-sheathed, grass-topped facility. Its "therapeutic design" offers airy living spaces and enclosed courtyards.

On a recent afternoon, he parked himself on a bench with a plastic bag filled with magazines and newspapers. (He gave up books about 10 years ago after prosecutors said his reading list proved he was still into violence-themed books and music. The list was never made public.)

His outfit -- T-shirt, shorts and baseball cap -- befit a man with no pressing appointments. After a while, he got up and moved to a bench beneath some trees. From his new spot, he sat quietly looking out at the parking lot. A few minutes later, a hospital worker appeared by the entrance. Although she said nothing, he seemed to take it as his cue to go. Toting his plastic bag, he ambled past her without a word and disappeared through the glass doors.

Staff researcher Meg Smith contributed to this report.

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