John Hinckley, Jr.

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John W. Hinckley, Jr.
John Hinckley, Jr. Mugshot.png
FBI mug shot of Hinckley in 1981
BornJohn Warnock Hinckley, Jr.
(1955-05-29) May 29, 1955 (age 59)
Ardmore, Oklahoma
ParentsJohn Warnock Hinckley Sr., and Jo Ann Moore
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John W. Hinckley, Jr.
John Hinckley, Jr. Mugshot.png
FBI mug shot of Hinckley in 1981
BornJohn Warnock Hinckley, Jr.
(1955-05-29) May 29, 1955 (age 59)
Ardmore, Oklahoma
ParentsJohn 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 actress Jodie Foster, reported to have been driven by an erotomanic fixation on her. He was found not guilty by reason of insanity, and has remained under institutional psychiatric care since then, though with progressively longer visits to the home of his parents.[1] Public outcry over the verdict led to the Insanity Defense Reform Act of 1984. This changed the role of mental illness in court proceedings.[2]

Early life[edit]

John W. Hinckley Jr., was born May 29, 1955, in Ardmore, Oklahoma,[3][2] 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 is 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.[2]

Hinckley grew up in University Park, Texas,[4] and attended Highland Park High School[5] 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).[2] 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.[6]

During the late 1970s and early 1980s, Hinckley began purchasing weapons and practicing with them. He also began taking anti-depressants and tranquilizers.[2]

Obsession with Jodie Foster[edit]

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. The Bickle character was in turn partly based on the diaries of Arthur Bremer, the attempted assassin of George Wallace.[4] Hinckley developed an infatuation with actress Jodie Foster, who played a child prostitute in the film.[7] 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,[2] began slipping poems and messages under Foster's door, and repeatedly phoned 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 hypothesis that as a historical figure he would be her equal. Hinckley trailed President Jimmy Carter from state to state, and he was then arrested in Nashville, Tennessee, on a firearms charge. Penniless, he went home again; 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:[8]

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[edit]

In the immediate aftermath of the assassination attempt, Secret Service agents have already rushed to subdue Hinckley, who cannot be seen within the group of officers and agents in the center. The agents at the right are evacuating the President into his limousine.

On March 30, 1981, at 2:25 p.m. local time,[2] 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.[9] 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[10] until his death on August 4, 2014.


At the trial in 1982, in Washington D.C., 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.[11] Hinckley was confined at St. Elizabeths Hospital in Washington, D.C.[11]

Hinckley, Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) number 00137-177, was released from BOP custody on August 18, 1981.[12]

Reaction to verdict[edit]

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.[13] In the United States prior to the Hinckley case, the insanity defense had been used in less than two percent of all felony cases and was unsuccessful in almost 75 percent of the trials in which it was used.[11] In 1985, Hinckley's parents wrote, Breaking Points, a book detailing their son's mental condition.[11]

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."[14] However, this is not the rule amongst the majority of states today.[15]

Vincent Fuller, who represented Hinckley during his trial and for several years afterward, said Hinckley has schizophrenia.[16] Hinckley has been diagnosed with narcissistic and schizoid personality disorders and dysthymia as well as borderline and passive-aggressive features.[17]

Treatment at St. Elizabeths Hospital[edit]

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.[18]

Around 1987, Hinckley applied for a court order allowing him periodic home visits. As part of the review of this request, the judge ordered Hinckley's hospital room searched. Carrying out that order, hospital officials found photographs and letters showing a continued obsession with Foster as well as evidence that Hinckley had exchanged letters with serial killer Ted Bundy and sought the address of mass murderer Charles Manson. Again the court denied Hinckley's request for additional privileges. 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".[19]

He was allowed to leave the hospital for supervised visits with his parents in 1999, and he was then granted longer unsupervised releases in 2000.[4] 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.[citation needed]

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.[citation needed]

In 2007, 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 June 6, 2007.

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.[20] 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".[21]

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."[20] 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.[22] 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.[23][24]

By December 2013, the court ordered that the visits be extended further still.[1]

On August 4, 2014, James Brady (one of the victims Hinckley shot) died, and his death was ruled a homicide.[25] It is unknown if Hinckley will face further charges as a result of his death.[26]

Bush-Hinckley family connection[edit]

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 the Vice President's son Neil Bush the day after the Reagan assassination attempt.[27][28] 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 did not 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."[29]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Federal judge grants more freedom to John Hinckley Jr., Reagan’s would-be assassin, Matt Zapotosky and Ann E. Marimow, Washington Post, December 20, 2013. Retrieved March 10, 2014.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g "John W. Hinckley Jr., A Biography". University of Missouri–Kansas City School of Law. Retrieved September 19, 2013. 
  3. ^ "John Hinckley Jr Fast Facts". CNN. Retrieved September 19, 2013.
  4. ^ a b c Wolf, Julie. "Biography: John Hinckley, Jr.". The American Experience. PBS. Retrieved September 19, 2013. 
  5. ^ "John Hinckley, Jr. brings infamy to Lubbock". Lubbock Avalanche-Journal. 2008. Retrieved August 5, 2013. 
  6. ^ Noe, Denise. "Taxi Driver". "The John Hinckley Case". Crime Library. truTV. Page 4 of 14. Retrieved September 19, 2013.
  7. ^ "Taxi Driver: Its Influence on John Hinckley, Jr.". University of Missouri–Kansas City School of Law. Retrieved February 8, 2011. 
  8. ^ "Letter written to Jodie Foster by John Hinckley, Jr.". University of Missouri–Kansas City School of Law. March 30, 1981. Retrieved February 8, 2011. 
  9. ^ Reagan, Ronald (Reagan said this on January 11, 1990. The episode of Larry King aired on March 30, 2001.). "Larry King Live: Remembering the Assassination Attempt on Ronald Reagan". CNN. Retrieved November 13, 2008.  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  10. ^ "Jim Brady, 25 Years Later". CBS News. January 21, 2006. 
  11. ^ a b c d The Trial of John W. Hinckley, Jr., by Doug Linder. 2001 Retrieved March 10, 2007.
  12. ^ "John W Hinckley Jr." Federal Bureau of Prisons. Retrieved on January 9, 2010.
  13. ^ Collins, Kimberly; Hinkelbein, Gabe; Schorgl, Staci. "The John Hinckley Trial & Its Effect on the Insanity Defense". University of Missouri–Kansas City. Retrieved September 19, 2013.
  14. ^ "Barring ultimate issue testimony". Springerlink. Retrieved October 25, 2007. 
  15. ^ C. McCormick, Evidence (3d Ed.) § 12, p. 30.
  16. ^ Hemmer, Bill (April 11, 2000). "Should Hinckley be allowed to go on unsupervised trips?". TalkBack Live. CNN.
  17. ^ Noe. "Dementia Suburbia". Page 9 of 14. Retrieved September 19, 2013.
  18. ^ Taylor, Stuart (July 9, 1982). "Hinckley Hails 'Historical' Shooting To Win Love". The New York Times.
  19. ^ Noe. "Life at St. Elizabeths". Page 12 of 14. Retrieved September 19, 2013.
  20. ^ a b James Polk (March 26, 2011). "Doctors: Reagan shooter is recovering, not a danger". CNN. Retrieved March 26, 2011. 
  21. ^ "Court gives would-be assassin John Hinckley more freedom". CNN. June 17, 2009. 
  22. ^ Carter, Rusty (March 30, 2011). "Man who attempted to assassinate Reagan wants more visits to Williamsburg". Daily Press (Virginia).
  23. ^ Johnson, Carrie (November 30, 2011). "Hearing May Grant John Hinckley More Privileges". NPR.
  24. ^ Cratty, Carol (November 30, 2011). "Lawyers for Hinckley say the presidential assailant is not dangerous". CNN.
  25. ^ Peter Herman (August 8, 2014). "James Brady’s death ruled homicide by Virginia medical examiner". The Washington Post. Retrieved August 8, 2014. 
  26. ^ "Will John Hinckley Jr. face murder charges?". August 9, 2014. Retrieved August 9, 2014. 
  27. ^ Wiese, Arthur; Downing, Margaret (March 31, 1981). "Bush's Son Was To Dine With Suspect's Brother". Houston Post. 
  28. ^ "Hinkley's kin slated to dine with Bush's son". The Bulletin. Bend, Oregon: UPI. March 31, 1981. Retrieved September 19, 2013. 
  29. ^ Santini, Maureen (March 31, 1981). "Hinckley family had ties with vice president". The Free Lance Star. Fredericksburg, Virginia: Associated Press-Houston. Retrieved September 19, 2013. 

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