John Hinckley, Jr

John W. Hinckley, Jr.
FBI mug shot of Hinckley in 1981
Born John Warnock Hinckley, Jr.
(1955-05-29) May 29, 1955 (age 59)
Ardmore, Oklahoma
Parents John Warnock Hinckley Sr., and Jo Ann Moore

John Warnock Hinckley Jr. (born May 29, 1955) attempted to assassinate U.S. President Ronald Reagan in Washington D.C., on March 30, 1981, as the culmination of an effort to impress teen actress Jodie Foster. He was found not guilty by reason of insanity and has remained under institutional psychiatric care since then. Public outcry over the verdict led to the Insanity Defense Reform Act of 1984.[1]

Early life

John W. Hinckley Jr., was born May 29, 1955 in Ardmore, Oklahoma,[2][1] and moved with his family to Dallas, Texas, at the age of 4. His father was John Warnock Hinckley, Sr., who was president of World Vision United States, and Chairman and President of the Vanderbilt Energy Corporation, and his mother was Jo Ann Moore Hinckley. He has two older siblings: sister Diane and brother Scott. Scott Hinckley later graduated from Vanderbilt University and became vice president of his father’s oil business, while his sister graduated from Southern Methodist University in Dallas.[1] Hinckley grew up in University Park, Texas,[3] and attended Highland Park High School[4] in Dallas County. During his grade school years, he played football, basketball, hockey, soccer, and baseball, learned to play the piano, and was elected class president twice. After Hinckley graduated in 1973 from his Texas high school, the family, owners of the Hinckley oil company, moved to Evergreen, Colorado, where the new company headquarters was located (Hansell & Damour, 2005).[1] An off-and-on student at Texas Tech University from 1974 to 1980, in 1975 he went to Los Angeles in the hope of becoming a songwriter. His efforts were unsuccessful, and he wrote to his parents with tales of misfortune and pleas for money. He also spoke of a girlfriend, Lynn Collins, who turned out to be a fabrication. In September 1976 he returned to his parents' home in Evergreen.[5]

During the late 1970s and early 1980s, Hinckley began purchasing weapons and practicing with them. He also began taking anti-depressants and tranquilizers.[1]

Obsession ith Jodie Foster

Hinckley became obsessed with the 1976 film Taxi Driver, in which a disturbed protagonist, Travis Bickle, played by Robert De Niro, plots to assassinate a presidential candidate. Hinckley developed an infatuation with actress Jodie Foster, who played a child prostitute in the film.[6] The Bickle character was in turn partly based on the diaries of Arthur Bremer, the attempted assassin of George Wallace.[3] When Foster entered Yale University, Hinckley moved to New Haven, Connecticut, for a short time to stalk her. He enrolled in a Yale writing class,[1] and began slipping poems and messages under her door and repeatedly phoning her.

Failing to develop any meaningful contact with the actress, Hinckley developed such plots as aircraft hijacking and committing suicide in front of her to get her attention. Eventually he settled on a scheme to impress her by assassinating the president, with the theory that as a historical figure he would be her equal. Hinckley trailed President Jimmy Carter from state to state, but was arrested in Nashville, Tennessee, on a firearms charge. Penniless, he went home again, and despite psychiatric treatment for depression, his mental health did not improve. He began to target the newly elected president Ronald Reagan in 1981 and started collecting information on the assassination of John F. Kennedy by Lee Harvey Oswald, whom he saw as a role model.

Hinckley wrote to Foster just before his attempt on Reagan's life:[7]

Over the past seven months I've left you dozens of poems, letters and love messages in the faint hope that you could develop an interest in me. Although we talked on the phone a couple of times I never had the nerve to simply approach you and introduce myself.... The reason I'm going ahead with this attempt now is because I cannot wait any longer to impress you.
—John Hinckley, Jr.

Reagan assassination attempt

Main article: Reagan assassination attempt

On March 30, 1981, at 2:25 p.m. local time,[1] Hinckley shot a .22 caliber Röhm RG-14 revolver six times at Reagan as he left the Hilton Hotel in Washington, D.C., after addressing an AFL-CIO conference.

Hinckley wounded police officer Thomas Delahanty and Secret Service agent Timothy McCarthy, and critically wounded press secretary James Brady. Hinckley did not hit Reagan directly, but seriously wounded him when a bullet ricocheted off the side of the presidential limousine and hit him in the chest.[8] Hinckley did not attempt to flee and was arrested at the scene. All of the shooting victims survived, although Brady, who was hit in the right side of the head, endured a long recuperation period and remained paralyzed on the left side of his body.[9]


At the trial in 1982, charged with 13 offenses, Hinckley was found not guilty by reason of insanity on June 21. The defense psychiatric reports portrayed him as insane while the prosecution reports saw him as legally sane.[10] Hinckley was confined at St. Elizabeths Hospital in Washington, D.C.[10]

Hinckley, Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) number 00137-177, had been released from BOP custody on August 18, 1981.[11]

Reaction to verdict

The verdict resulted in widespread dismay; as a result, the U.S. Congress and a number of states rewrote laws regarding the insanity defense. Idaho, Montana, and Utah abolished the defense altogether.[12] In the United States prior to the Hinckley case, the insanity defense had been used in less than 2 percent of all felony cases and was unsuccessful in almost 75 percent of the trials in which it was used.[10] Hinckley's parents wrote a book during 1985, Breaking Points, about their son's mental condition.[10]

As another result of the verdict, federal and some state rules of evidence exclude or restrict testimony of an expert witness’s conclusions on "ultimate" issues, including that of psychologist and psychiatrist expert witnesses on the issue of whether a criminal defendant is legally "insane."[13] However, this is not the rule amongst the majority of states today.[14]

Vincent Fuller, who represented Hinckley during his trial and for several years afterward, said Hinckley has schizophrenia.[15] Hinckley has been diagnosed with narcissistic and schizoid personality disorders and dysthymia as well as borderline and passive-aggressive features.[16]

Treatment at St. Elizabeths Hospital

Soon after his trial, Hinckley wrote that the shooting was “the greatest love offering in the history of the world” and was upset that Foster did not reciprocate his love.[17]

After Hinckley was admitted, tests found that he was an “unpredictably dangerous” man who might harm himself, the target of his obsession (Foster), or any other third party. During 1983 he told Penthouse that on a typical day he will
“see a therapist, answer mail, play guitar, listen to music, play pool, watch television, eat lousy food and take delicious medication."[18]

He was allowed to leave the hospital for supervised visits with his parents in 1999, and longer unsupervised releases in 2000.[3] These privileges were revoked when he was found to have smuggled materials about Foster back into the hospital. Hinckley was later allowed supervised visits during 2004 and 2005. Court hearings were held in September 2005 on whether he could have expanded privileges to leave the hospital. Some of the testimony during the hearings centered on whether Hinckley is capable of having a normal relationship with a woman and, if not, whether that would have any bearing on what danger he would pose to society.

On December 30, 2005, a federal judge ruled that Hinckley would be allowed visits, supervised by his parents, to their home in Williamsburg, Virginia. The judge ruled that Hinckley could have up to three visits of three nights and then four visits of four nights, each depending on the successful completion of the last. All of the experts who testified at Hinckley's 2005 conditional release hearing, including the government experts, agreed that his depression and psychotic disorder were in full remission and that he should have some expanded conditions of release.

After Hinckley requested further freedoms including two one-week visits with his parents, as well as a month-long visit, U.S. District Judge Paul L. Friedman denied that request on Wednesday, June 6, 2007; he did not deny the request out of a concern that Hinckley was not ready.

On June 17, 2009, a federal judge ruled that Hinckley would be given the ability to visit his mother for a dozen visits of 10 days at a time, rather than six, spend more time outside of the hospital, and have a driver's license. The court also ordered that Hinckley be required to carry a GPS-enabled cell phone to track him whenever he was outside of his parents’ home, and he was forbidden to speak to the news media.[19] This was done over the objections of the prosecutors, who said that he was still a danger to others and had unhealthful and inappropriate thoughts about women. Hinckley recorded a song, “Ballad of an Outlaw,” which the prosecutors claim is "reflecting suicide and lawlessness."[20]

In March 2011 it was reported that a forensic psychologist at the hospital testified that "Hinckley has recovered to the point that he poses no imminent risk of danger to himself or others."[19] On March 29, 2011, the day before the 30th anniversary of the assassination attempt, Hinckley's attorney filed a court petition requesting more freedom for his client, including additional unsupervised visits to the Kingsmill home of Hinckley's mother, Joanne.[21] On November 30, 2011, a hearing began in Washington that could result in his living full-time outside the hospital. The Justice Department opposed this, in the belief that Hinckley still poses a danger to the public, arguing that he had been known to deceive his doctors in the past.[22][23]

Bush–Hinckley family connection

Hinckley’s father was a financial supporter of George H.W. Bush's 1980 presidential primary campaign. Hinckley’s older brother, Scott, had a dinner date scheduled at the home of Neil Bush the day after the Reagan assassination attempt.[24][25] Neil's wife, Sharon, indicated in a newspaper interview the day after the shooting that Scott was coming to their house as a date of a girlfriend of hers, and that she didn't know "the brother [John]" but understood "that he was the renegade brother in the family." Sharon described the Hinckleys as "a very nice family" and that they had "given a lot of money to the Bush campaign."[26] This also led to various conspiracy theorists speculating that the Bush family had something to do with the assassination attempt.[27]

See also


Further reading

  • Clarke, James W. (2006). Defining Danger: American Assassins and the New Domestic Terrorists.
  • Clarke, James W. (1990). On Being Mad or Merely Angry: John W. Hinckley, Jr., and Other Dangerous People. Princeton University Press.
  • Hinckley, John W. (September 20, 1982). "The Insanity Defense and Me". Newsweek.

External links

  • Linder, Douglas (2002). The Trial of John Hinckley, Jr. University of Missouri at Kansas City Law School.
  • Dean, Eddie (July 25, 1997). Washington City Paper.
  • "Footage of the Ronald Reagan assassination attempt".

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