John Hinckley Jr.

On March 30, 1981, John Hinckley, Jr. fired a revolver six times at then-President Ronald Reagan in an assassination attempt. Reagan was seriously wounded, a police officer and a Secret Service agent were also hit, and Reagan's press secretary, James Brady, was critically wounded. Hinckley was found not guilty by reason of insanity. Let's look at the background of Hinckley to see what could have led him to this act and the subsequent insanity plea.

The Insanity Defense Reform Act of 1984 was a result of the public outcry over Hinckley's successful plea. Prior to this act, the prosecution had to prove beyond reasonable doubt that the defendant was sane, after passage, the burden of proof was shifted to the defense to prove insanity beyond question.

The Early Years

Up until high school, there was little in John Hinckley, Jr.'s life that foreshadowed what was to come. He was born in Oklahoma, but grew up in Dallas, Texas. His father was the owner of a successful oil and gas business, so the family was well-to-do. John played all sorts of sports in grade school, was elected twice as a class president, and had an interest in music. By high school, however, he started becoming more reclusive, which his parents and fellow students attributed to shyness. For business reasons, the family moved to Colorado after Hinckley graduated from high school. Then his troubles began.

Hinckley was an on-and-off student at Texas Tech, finally dropping out of college in 1976, and going to Hollywood with dreams of becoming a famous songwriter. He was unsuccessful, and often wrote home begging for money. He also wrote of a girlfriend, a fabrication based on a character in the movie that Hinckley is forever linked with, Taxi Driver.

Hinckley's brother graduated from Vanderbilt and became vice president in his father's business. His sister was a straight "A" student and a graduate of SMU.

The Taxi Driver Influence

While still in Hollywood in 1976, Hinckley saw the movie Taxi Driver at least 15 times. He identified with the Robert DeNiro character that planned to assassinate a political candidate to impress a woman that spurned him. Hinckley became obsessed with the then 12-year-old Jodie Foster, who played a child prostitute in the film.

When Foster entered Yale University, Hinckley moved to Connecticut and stalked her. He repeatedly called her, wrote her poems, and followed her around campus. Like the DeNiro character, Hinckley decided the only way to get the girl's attention was to become famous by assassinating the president. He began following then-President Jimmy Carter around the campaign trail, finally being arrested at the Nashville, Tennessee airport in October of 1980, when x-rays discovered three guns in his bags. At the time, there was no connection to any assassination attempt, so Hinckley's guns were confiscated and he merely paid a $62.50 bond for a weapons charge. After returning to his sister's home in Dallas, he was treated for depression. Six months later Hinckley, however, still trying to impress Foster, purchased a .22 caliber RG-14 revolver in Dallas for $25, and carried out his assassination attempt on recently elected Ronald Reagan.

According to his defense lawyers at the 1982 trial for the attempt on Reagan, Hinckley played Russian Roulette twice in late 1979.

Still Controversial Today

As if the events leading to the assassination attempt weren't bizarre enough, Hinckley may have the distinction of being the only person to shoot a president and become a free man. Declared "not guilty by reason of insanity" at his trial, Hinckley was sentenced to St. Elizabeth's Hospital. During the 1980s and 90s, Hinckley tried several times to get home visits and other freedoms. After one petition, Hinckley's room was searched and evidence was found that he was still obsessed with Foster, and had exchanged correspondence with serial killer Ted Bundy. His requests were denied until June, 2009, when a federal judge ruled he could visit his mother for 10 days at a time, and have a driver's license.

Since then, Hinckley has been given longer and longer leaves from the hospital. He is now allowed 17 days per month at his mother's estate – a 2,900-acre community where new homes go for $2 million. He is given four hours of outside time where he can shop, go to movies, and even hold odd jobs. The government has requested that he wear tracking devices and have his computer monitored, but the judge has denied those requests. His attorneys claim that he is fully recovered and has been stable for years. In July of 2016, a federal judge granted Hinckley Jr. full-time convalescent leave from St. Elizabeth's Hospital.

In August of 2014, James Brady died from complications of his gunshot wound. His death was declared a homicide, but prosecutors did not press charges against Hinckley because of his prior not guilty ruling for the original shooting.