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Thursday, July 28, 2016

John Hinckley Jr.: How To Shoot a U. S. President And Three Others And End Up Living The Good Life

     Most Americans are uncomfortable with the criminal law doctrine that if you kill or try to kill someone in the throes of mental illness you should not be punished, but instead be treated and cured of the ailment that caused your deviant behavior. Criminal defense attorneys realize that the not guilty by reason of insanity plea is a tough sell. Juries just don't buy it. But occasionally there are exceptions to this criminal justice aversion. Take the case of John Hinckley, Jr. Although it is hard to believe, Mr. Hinckley tried to kill the president of the United States and did not go to prison. Most people think that even considering the release of this would-be-assassin back into society is a notion more insane than John Hinckley himself.

     John Hinckley Jr., at 2:27 in the afternoon of March 30, 1981, shot President Ronald Reagan in the chest and lower right arm with a six-shot, .22-caliber revolver. The president was leaving a speaking engagement at the Washington Hilton Hotel in Washington, D.C. The 25-year-old shooter also wounded White House press secretary James Brady and two others in the presidential party. All of the victims survived, but Mr. Brady was paralyzed for life.

     At his trial in federal court, Hinckley's attorneys pleaded him not guilty by reason of insanity. According to the defense, Hinckley had been obsessed with the film actress Jodi Foster who had played the role of a 12-year-old prostitute in the movie "Taxi Driver." Hinckley had seen the film fifteen times and had written Foster several fan letters. In the movie, New York City cab driver Travis Bickle, played by Robert DeNiro, attempts to assassinate a U.S. Senator who was running for president. Hinckley claimed to have shot the president and the others in an attempt to gain favor with the young actress.

    At the trial, a battery of defense psychiatrists testified that John Hinckley, a man who suffered from psychosis and severe depression, also possessed a narcissistic personality disorder. Notwithstanding the fact the defendant knew exactly what he was doing when he shot the president and the others, and knew that what he was doing was wrong, the jury found him not guilty by reason of insanity. If that wasn't bad enough, the verdict left open the possibility that Hinckley could one day live outside a mental institution.

     Over the next 34 years, Mr. Hinckley spent most of his time at St. Elizabeth's Psychiatric Hospital in Washington, D.C. In 2006, a U.S. District Court judge ruled that Hinckley could spend three days a month at his mother Jo Ann's house in Williamsburg, Virginia. Over time, this judge allowed Hinckley more time outside the hospital in the company of his mother at her luxury home overlooking the 13th hole of an exclusive golf course. Federal prosecutors, at each of these sentencing hearings, fought against granting Hinckley more freedom.

     In 2013, U.S. District Court Judge Paul L. Friedman, against the strenuous objects of prosecutors, granted Mr. Hinckley the right to live with his mother, now 88-years-old, 17 days out of every month. The judge allowed this freedom after psychiatrists testified that Hinckley's psychosis and depression had been in remission for decades. The doctors did concede that Hinckley still possessed a narcissistic personality disorder. (In the D.C. area, throw a stick and it will hit nine people with the same disorder.) As a condition of his expanded freedom, Mr. Hinckley was required to check in regularly with his doctors and to keep taking his medication.

     Judge Friedman, pursuant to the Hinckley ruling, urged President Reagan's shooter to take music therapy classes and to do volunteer work at a local hospital.

     From all appearances, John Hinckley had it pretty good. When in Williamsburg he drove around in a Toyota Avalon, went to the movies, ate out, took long walks, shopped, played his guitar, and painted. Because he did not receive Social Security or Medicare benefits, Hinckley's out of hospital expenses were picked up by his family and amounted to between $5,000 and $10,000 a month. This did not seem to be a horrible existence for a man who had knowingly tried to kill the president of the United States.

     On April 22, 2015, Hinckley's tireless attorneys and their psychiatrists were back in federal court to gain even more freedom for their client. At the hearing, doctors from St. Elizabeths urged the judge to allow Hinckley to move out of the psychiatric facility permanently. Barry Levine, Hinckley's principal lawyer, told the court that his client had not shown "a hint of dangerous behavior."

     On the third day of the Hinckley hearing, Dr. Giogi-Guarnieri, one of Hinckley's psychiatrists, testified that the presidential shooter wanted to start a band and desired to publish his music anonymously. Mr. Hinckley, however, did not want to perform publicly. According to Dr. Giorgi-Guarnieri, Mr. Hinckley also wanted to start dating a girl he met at a National Association for the Mentally Ill meeting.

     Federal Judge Paul Friedman, on July 27, 2016, ruled that Hinckley will begin his permanent "convalescent leave" on August 5, 2016. That meant that Hinckley will live full-time with his mother in Virginia. 

3 comments:

  1. Jim,

    What is most important here is Hinckley
    s family money and power. If he was just an average Joe he would have been put away for life in a federal prison. But Mommy and Daddy had the connections to make sure that did not happen.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Since James Brady died, too bad they don't charge Hinckley with murder. This has been done before when a victim passes away years after the murder attempt.

    ReplyDelete