Failed presidential assassin John Hinckley, Jr. has been granted full time release from St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Washington D.C., and will live with his 90 year old mother in Williamsburg, VA, under her supervision.
A federal judge has granted Hinckley outpatient status, consistent with constitutional law which requires the hospital, if Hinckley’s doctors believe he is ready for independent living, to advocate his release to the court on Hinckley’s behalf.
Hinckley is granted “convalescent leave,” which can be revoked if certain conditions are not met. Those conditions, among others, are to not speak with the media, take his medications and continue independent therapeutic sessions, and volunteer at a local hospital.
Hinckley was found to be insane and incompetent to stand trial following the assassination attempt. Hinckley’s notoriety and infamy are not restricted to the shooting; he has a legacy of sorts. The first is he set a precedent for what became known as the “insanity defense.” Federal and some state criminal justice laws were changed to prevent abuses of incompetency hearings for criminal suspects. The second is the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, passed in 1993, which mandated federal background checks for those seeking to purchase firearms, as well as five day waiting periods.
On March 30, 1981, Hinckley shot President Ronald Reagan, White House press secretary James Brady, Secret Service agent Timothy McCarthy and police officer Thomas Delahanty. All survived, though Brady was paralyzed as a result of his wound, and when he passed away in 2014, his death was ruled a homicide, though Hinckley was not charged with the crime. Reagan suffered a chest wound, the bullet narrowly missing his heart. The bullet that struck Reagan was not fired directly from Hinckley’s firearm, but had ricocheted off his limousine door.
Beginning in the late 1970s, Hinckley had been prescribed anti-depressants and tranquilizers, and had also begun purchasing, and practicing with, firearms. Hinckley has been diagnosed with dysthymia, and narcissistic, borderline, passive-aggressive and schizoid personality disorders.
Beginning in 2013, Hinckley was allowed to spend up to 17 days a month at home supervised by his mother, and was occasionally seen in public areas in Williamsburg. However, his long road to outpatient status has been long and characterized by small steps forward and backward. Hinckley was confined to St. Elizabeth’s full time from 1981 to 1999, when he was allowed brief visits home under the supervision of his parents. A year later his visits became slightly longer, but were revoked in 2005 when he was caught smuggling material about Foster into his hospital room. His initial request in 1987 for supervised visits to his parents’ home was denied when a judge ordered Hinckley’s room searched and material about Foster, as well as evidence that Hinckley had exchanged letters with serial killer Ted Bundy and had tried to learn the mailing address of Charles Manson.
Hinckley’s assassination attempt is an example of life imitating art imitating life. Hinckley was inspired by the film Taxi Driver, which co-starred Jodie Foster, with whom Hinckley became infatuated with. In Taxi Driver Travis Bickle, played by Robert De Niro, attempts to assassinate a presidential candidate to impress a woman he is infatuated with. The character of Travis Bickle was based in part on the diaries of Arthur Herman Bremer, who had shot 1972 Democratic presidential candidate George Wallace, leaving him paralyzed, along with three bystanders.
The release of Hinckley is not atypical for those convicted of attempted assassinations of American political figures, and his 35 years of institutionalization is consistent with those convicted of similar crimes. Bremer served 35 years in prison and was released November 9, 2007. Sara Jane Moore fired a shot at President Gerald Ford in 1975; she was paroled in 2008, at the age of 77, though she was sentenced to life in prison. Francisco Martin Duran, who fired 29 or more shots at the White House in 1994, was sentenced to 40 years.