John Hinckley Jr.

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John Hinckley Jr.
John Hinckley, Jr. Mugshot.png
FBI mug shot of Hinckley in 1981
John Warnock Hinckley Jr.

(1955-05-29) May 29, 1955 (age 64)
Criminal statusReleased
Parent(s)John Warnock Hinckley Sr. and Jo Ann Moore
Criminal charge13 charges
PenaltyMental hospital treatment; found not guilty by reason of insanity

John Warnock Hinckley Jr. (born May 29, 1955) is an American man who, on March 30, 1981, attempted to assassinate U.S. President Ronald Reagan in Washington, D.C. He wounded Reagan with a bullet from a revolver that ricocheted and hit Reagan in the chest. He also wounded police officer Thomas Delahanty and Secret Service agent Tim McCarthy, and critically wounded Press Secretary James Brady, who was permanently disabled in the shooting and died as a result of his injuries 33 years later, on August 4, 2014. Brady's death was subsequently ruled a homicide.

Hinckley was reported to have been driven by an obsessive fixation on actress Jodie Foster. He was found not guilty by reason of insanity and remained under institutional psychiatric care until September 2016. Public outcry over the verdict led to the Insanity Defense Reform Act of 1984, which altered the rules for consideration of mental illness of defendants in Federal Criminal Court proceedings in the United States. He was released from institutional psychiatric care on September 10, 2016.[1]

Early life[edit]

John Warnock Hinckley Jr. was born on May 29, 1955, in Ardmore, Oklahoma,[2][3] and moved with his wealthy family to Dallas, Texas, at the age of 4. His late father was John Warnock Hinckley Sr., president of World Vision United States, and chairman and president of the Vanderbilt Energy Corporation. His mother is Jo Ann Hinckley (née Moore).

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.[citation needed]

After Hinckley graduated from high school in 1973, his family, owners of the Hinckley oil company, moved to Evergreen, Colorado, where the new company headquarters was located.[2] He was an off-and-on student at Texas Tech University from 1974 to 1980 but eventually dropped out.[6] 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.[7]

During the late 1970s and early 1980s, Hinckley began purchasing weapons and practicing with them. He was prescribed anti-depressants and tranquilizers to deal with emotional issues.[2]

Obsession with Jodie Foster[edit]

Photo of Jodie Foster at the Berlin premiere of The Brave One.
Hinckley became obsessed with Jodie Foster after watching her in Taxi Driver and began stalking her to receive her attention.

Hinckley became obsessed with the 1976 film Taxi Driver, in which disturbed protagonist Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro) plots to assassinate a presidential candidate. The Bickle character was partly based on the diaries of Arthur Bremer, who attempted to assassinate George Wallace.[4] Hinckley developed an infatuation with Jodie Foster, who played child prostitute Iris Steensma in the film.[8] When Foster entered Yale University, Hinckley moved to New Haven, Connecticut, for a short time to stalk her.[2] There, he slipped poems and messages under Foster's door, and repeatedly called her.

Failing to develop any meaningful contact with the actress, Hinckley fantasized about conducting an aircraft hijacking or committing suicide in front of her to get her attention. Eventually, he settled on a scheme to impress her by assassinating the president, thinking that by achieving a place in history, he would appeal to her as an equal. Hinckley trailed President Jimmy Carter from state to state, and was arrested in Nashville, Tennessee, on a firearms charge. Penniless, he returned home. Despite psychiatric treatment for depression, his mental health did not improve. He began to target the newly elected president Ronald Reagan in 1981. To this purpose, he collected material on the assassination of John F. Kennedy.

Hinckley wrote to Foster just before his attempt on Reagan's life:[9]

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]

On March 30, 1981, at 2:27 p.m. EST,[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 the president addressed 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.[10] Alfred Antenucci, a Cleveland, Ohio, labor official who stood nearby Hinckley, and saw him firing,[11] hit Hinckley in the head, pulling the shooter down to the ground.[12] Within two seconds agent Dennis McCarthy (no relation to agent Timothy McCarthy) dove onto Hinckley as others threw him to the ground; intent on protecting Hinckley, and to avoid what happened to Lee Harvey Oswald.[13]:84 Another Cleveland-area labor official, Frank J. McNamara, joined Antenucci and started punching Hinckley in the head, striking him so hard he drew blood.[14] Brady was hit in the right side of the head, and endured a long recuperation period, remaining paralyzed on the left side of his body[15] until his death on August 4, 2014. Brady's death was ruled a homicide 33 years after the shooting.

At his trial in 1982, in Washington, D.C., having been charged with 13 offenses, Hinckley was found not guilty by reason of insanity on June 21. The defense psychiatric reports portrayed Hinckley as insane while the prosecution reports characterized him as legally sane.[16] Hinckley, Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) number 00137-177, was transferred into psychiatric care from BOP custody on August 18, 1981.[17] Soon after his trial, Hinckley wrote that the shooting was "the greatest love offering in the history of the world" and was disappointed that Foster did not reciprocate his love.[18]

The verdict resulted in widespread dismay. As a consequence, the United States Congress and a number of states revised laws governing when the insanity defense may be used by the defendant in a criminal prosecution. Idaho, Montana, and Utah abolished the defense altogether.[19] In the United States, prior to the Hinckley case, the insanity defense had been used in less than 2% of all felony cases and was unsuccessful in almost 75% of those trials.[16] Public outcry over the verdict led to the Insanity Defense Reform Act of 1984, which altered the rules for consideration of mental illness of defendants in federal criminal court proceedings in the United States.[2] In 1985, Hinckley's parents wrote Breaking Points, a book detailing their son's mental condition.[16]

Changes in federal and some state rules of evidence laws have since excluded or restricted the use of testimony of an expert witness, such as a psychologist or psychiatrist, regarding conclusions on "ultimate" issues in insanity defense cases, including whether a criminal defendant is legally "insane",[20] but this is not the rule among the majority of U.S. states.[21]

Vincent J. Fuller, an attorney who represented Hinckley during his trial and for several years afterward, said Hinckley has schizophrenia.[22] Park Dietz, a forensic psychiatrist who testified for the prosecution, diagnosed Hinckley with narcissistic and schizoid personality disorders and dysthymia, as well as borderline and passive-aggressive features.[23] At the hospital Hinckley was treated for narcissistic and schizotypal personality disorder and major depressive disorder.[24]


The Center Building at St. Elizabeths in 2006

Hinckley was confined at St. Elizabeths Hospital in Washington, DC.[16] After Hinckley was admitted, tests found that he was an "unpredictably dangerous" man who might harm himself or any third party. In 1983, he told Penthouse that on a normal day he would "see a therapist, answer mail, play guitar, listen to music, play pool, watch television, eat lousy food and take delicious medication".[25] Around 1987, Hinckley applied for a court order allowing him periodic home visits. As part of the consideration of the request, the judge ordered Hinckley's hospital room searched. Hospital officials found photographs and letters in Hinckley's room that showed a continued obsession with Foster, as well as evidence that Hinckley had exchanged letters with serial killer Ted Bundy and sought the address of the incarcerated Charles Manson, who had inspired Lynette Fromme to try to kill president of the United States Gerald Ford. The court denied Hinckley's request for additional privileges.

In 1999, Hinckley was permitted to leave the hospital for supervised visits with his parents. In April of 2000, the hospital recommended allowing unsupervised releases but a month later they removed the request. Hinckley was allowed supervised visits with his parents again during 2004 and 2005. Court hearings were held in September 2005 on whether he could have expanded privileges to leave the hospital.

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.[26]

In 2007, Hinckley requested further freedoms, including two one-week visits with his parents, and a month-long visit. US District Judge Paul L. Friedman denied that request on June 6, 2007.

On June 17, 2009, U.S. District Judge Paul Friedman ruled that Hinckley would be permitted to visit his mother for a dozen visits of 10 days at a time, rather than six, to spend more time outside of the hospital, and to 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. He was prohibited from speaking with the news media.[27] The prosecutors objected to this ruling, saying that Hinckley was still a danger to others and had unhealthy and inappropriate thoughts about women. Hinckley recorded a song, "Ballad of an Outlaw", which the prosecutors claim is "reflecting suicide and lawlessness".[28]

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".[27] 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 Virginia home of Hinckley's mother, Joanne.[29] On November 30, 2011, a hearing in Washington was held to consider whether he could live full-time outside the hospital. The Justice Department opposed this, stating that Hinckley still poses a danger to the public. Justice Department counsel argued that Hinckley had been known to deceive his doctors in the past.[30][31]

By December 2013, the court ordered that visits be extended to his mother, who lives near Williamsburg. Hinckley was permitted up to eight 17-day visits, with evaluation after the completion of each one.[32]

On August 4, 2014, James Brady died. As Hinckley had critically wounded Brady in 1981, the death was ruled a homicide.[33] Hinckley did not face charges as a result of Brady's death because he had been found not guilty of the original crime by reason of insanity.[34] In addition, since Brady's death occurred more than 33 years after the shooting, prosecution of Hinckley was barred under the year and a day law in effect in the District of Columbia at the time of the shooting.[35]


On July 27, 2016, a federal judge ruled that Hinckley would be allowed to be released from St. Elizabeths on August 5,[36] as he was no longer considered a threat to himself or others. The pivotal conditions of his release are that he has no contact with the Reagan family, the Brady family, Jodie Foster or Foster's family or agent. He will live with his 90-year-old mother and be restricted to a 50 mi (80 km) zone around her home in Williamsburg, Virginia.[36][37][38][39] Hinckley was released from institutional psychiatric care on September 10, 2016, and was to live full-time at his mother's home.[1] As part of his release, he is prohibited from using alcohol, possessing any firearms, ammunition and other weaponry, from any access to printed or online pornography, compact disc or online access to violent music, speaking to the press, had to work at least three days per week, could drive no more than 30 mi (48 km) from his mother's home or 50 mi (80 km) if attended, and was required to see a psychiatrist twice a month. His Internet use was subject to limitations and scrutiny, and he was not allowed to erase his computer's web browser history.[40][41]

Although the court ordered a risk assessment to be completed within 18 months of his release, it had not been done as of May 2018.[42]

On November 16, 2018, Judge Paul L. Friedman ruled Hinckley could move out of his mother’s house in Virginia and live on his own upon location approval from his doctors.[26] As of September, 2019, Hinckley's attorney said he plans to ask for full, unconditional release by the end of the year from the court orders that determine where he can live.[43]

Depiction in media[edit]

American new wave band Devo recorded a song "I Desire" for their fifth studio album, Oh, No! It's Devo (1982), which brought the band controversy because the lyrics were taken directly from a poem written by Hinckley.[44] Singer-songwriter Carmaig de Forest devoted a verse of his song "Hey Judas" to Hinckley, blaming him for Reagan's increased popularity following the assassination attempt.[45][46]

Hinckley is featured as a character of the Stephen Sondheim and John Weidman musical Assassins (1990), in which he and Lynette Fromme sing "Unworthy Of Your Love," a duet about their respective obsessions with Foster and Charles Manson. Hinckley's life leading up to the assassination attempt is fictionalized in the 2015 novel Calf by Andrea Kleine. The novel also includes a fictionalization of Hinckley's former girlfriend, Leslie deVeau, whom he met at St Elizabeths Hospital.[47][48][49]

Hinckley is portrayed by Steven Flynn in the American television film, Without Warning: The James Brady Story (1991). Hinckley appears as a character in the television film The Day Reagan Was Shot (2001), portrayed by Christian Lloyd. He was portrayed by Kevin Woodhouse in the television film The Reagans (2003). Hinckley is portrayed by Kyle S. More in the movie Killing Reagan, released in 2016.

In season 8, episode 1 of the animated sitcom Family Guy, "Road to the Multiverse", Stewie takes Brian on a multi-dimensional journey. In a universe where Christianity never happened, thus having no Renaissance art, the Sistine Chapel ceiling has been decorated with pictures of Jodie Foster by Hinckley. Hinckley is satirically portrayed in a skit by The Whitest Kids U' Know on their eponymous TV show's season 3 episode 14. He is played by Trevor Moore and is seen plotting and explaining his motives in a comedic fashion. In season 2, episode 8 of the science fiction time travel drama series Timeless, Erik Stocklin portrays Hinckley.

In season 1, episode 6 of the Netflix comedy ‘’The Politician’’, the character Payton Hobart, portrayed by Ben Platt is cast as Hinckley in his school’s production of ‘’Assassins’’.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "John Hinckley Jr. to begin living full-time in Virginia Sept. 10". Fox News. September 12, 2016. Retrieved December 6, 2018.
  2. ^ a b c d e f "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 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. Archived from the original on September 25, 2013. Retrieved August 5, 2013.
  6. ^ Texas Tech University (1974). La Ventana, vol. 049. hdl:2346/48660.
  7. ^ Noe, Denise. "Taxi Driver" Archived September 17, 2008, at the Wayback Machine. "The John Hinckley Case". Crime Library. truTV. Page 4 of 14. Retrieved September 19, 2013.
  8. ^ "Taxi Driver: Its Influence on John Hinckley Jr". University of Missouri–Kansas City School of Law. Archived from the original on March 2, 2007. Retrieved February 8, 2011.
  9. ^ "Letter written to Jodie Foster by John Hinckley Jr". University of Missouri–Kansas City School of Law. March 30, 1981. Archived from the original on January 8, 2011. Retrieved February 8, 2011.
  10. ^ Reagan, Ronald (March 30, 2001). "Larry King Live: Remembering the Assassination Attempt on Ronald Reagan". CNN. Retrieved November 13, 2008.
  11. ^ Office of Inspection. "Reagan Assassination Attempt Interview Reports" (PDF). United States Secret Service. Archived from the original (PDF) on July 21, 2011. Retrieved March 11, 2011.
  12. ^ "Alfred Antenucci (death notice)". Associated Press. May 13, 1984. Retrieved December 1, 2010.
  13. ^ Wilber, Del Quentin (2011). Rawhide Down: The Near Assassination of Ronald Reagan (hardcover). Macmillan. ISBN 0-8050-9346-X.
  14. ^ "Cleveland labor leader ill after grabbing Reagan's attacker". UPI.
  15. ^ "Jim Brady, 25 Years Later". CBS News. January 21, 2006.
  16. ^ a b c d The Trial of John W. Hinckley Jr. Archived August 3, 2002, at the Wayback Machine, by Doug Linder. 2001 Retrieved March 10, 2007.
  17. ^ "John W Hinckley Jr." Federal Bureau of Prisons. Retrieved on January 9, 2010.
  18. ^ Taylor, Stuart (July 9, 1982). "Hinckley Hails 'Historical' Shooting To Win Love". The New York Times.
  19. ^ Collins, Kimberly; Hinkelbein, Gabe; Schorgl, Staci. "The John Hinckley Trial & Its Effect on the Insanity Defense" Archived September 14, 2008, at the Wayback Machine. University of Missouri–Kansas City. Retrieved September 19, 2013.
  20. ^ Finkel, Norman J.; Fulero, Solomon M. (October 1991). "Barring ultimate issue testimony". Law and Human Behavior. 15 (5): 495–507. doi:10.1007/BF01650291. Retrieved October 25, 2007.
  21. ^ C. McCormick, Evidence (3d Ed.) § 12, p. 30.
  22. ^ Hemmer, Bill (April 11, 2000). "Should Hinckley be allowed to go on unsupervised trips?". Talkback Live. CNN.
  23. ^ Noe. "Dementia Suburbia" Archived May 17, 2013, at the Wayback Machine. Page 9 of 14. Retrieved September 19, 2013.
  24. ^ James Queally (July 27, 2016). "Who is Reagan shooter John Hinckley Jr.?". LA Times. Retrieved January 23, 2017.
  25. ^ Noe, Denise. "Life at St. Elizabeths". p. 12. Archived from the original on April 7, 2007. Retrieved September 19, 2013.
  26. ^ a b "Judge rules would-be Reagan assassin John Hinckley can move out of his mother's house". November 16, 2018. Retrieved November 17, 2018.
  27. ^ a b Polk, James (March 26, 2011). "Doctors: Reagan shooter is recovering, not a danger". CNN. Retrieved March 26, 2011.
  28. ^ "Court gives would-be assassin John Hinckley more freedom". CNN. June 17, 2009.
  29. ^ Carter, Rusty (March 30, 2011). "Man who attempted to assassinate Reagan wants more visits to Williamsburg". Daily Press. Virginia.
  30. ^ Johnson, Carrie (November 30, 2011). "Hearing May Grant John Hinckley More Privileges". NPR.
  31. ^ Cratty, Carol (November 30, 2011). "Lawyers for Hinckley say the presidential assailant is not dangerous". CNN.
  32. ^ Zapotosky, Matt; Marimow, Ann E. (December 20, 2013). "Federal judge grants more freedom to John Hinckley Jr., Reagan's would-be assassin". The Washington Post. Retrieved March 10, 2014.
  33. ^ Herman, Peter (August 8, 2014). "James Brady's death ruled homicide by Virginia medical examiner". The Washington Post. Retrieved August 8, 2014.
  34. ^ "John Hinckley Won't Face Murder Charges in James Brady's Death". NBC News. January 2, 2015. Retrieved January 2, 2015.
  35. ^ Volokh, Eugene (January 2, 2015). "'Hinckley won't face murder charge in death of James Brady, prosecutors say'". The Washington Post. Retrieved November 28, 2017.
  36. ^ a b Hsu, Spencer S.; Marimow, Ann E. (July 27, 2016). "Would-be Reagan assassin John Hinckley Jr. to be freed after 35 years". The Washington Post. Retrieved July 27, 2016.
  37. ^ Johnson, Carrie. "John Hinckley, Who Tried To Kill A President, Wins His Freedom". NPR. Retrieved July 27, 2016.
  38. ^ Todd, Brian; Schelifer, Theodore (July 27, 2016). "John Hinckley Jr. set to be released". CNN. Retrieved July 27, 2016.
  39. ^ "Judge grants John Hinckley Jr. his freedom decades after Reagan assassination attempt". Fox News. July 27, 2016. Retrieved July 27, 2016.
  40. ^ "Stipulations for John Hinckley Jr.' s release". BBC World News. September 10, 2016. Retrieved September 10, 2016.
  41. ^ "Judge's opinion in Hinckley case". The Washington Post. July 27, 2016. Retrieved December 29, 2017.
  42. ^ MacFarlane, Scott (May 10, 2018). "Officials Failed to Conduct Risk Assessment of Freed Reagan Shooter John Hinckley". NBC 4 Washington.
  43. ^ Cole, Devan (September 10, 2019). "John Hinckley Jr. to seek unconditional release by end of year". CNN.
  44. ^ "I Desire". Retrieved July 27, 2016.
  45. ^ "The Life of the Mind". Retrieved May 3, 2019.
  46. ^ Robert Harker (August 16, 2018), Hey Judas - Carmaig de Forest, retrieved May 3, 2019
  47. ^ "Fiction Book Review: Calf by Andrea Kleine". Retrieved July 27, 2016.
  48. ^ Duhr, David (October 23, 2015). "Fiction review: 'Calf,' by Andrea Kleine". The Dallas Morning News.
  49. ^ Marchand, Philip (December 12, 2015). "Find Comfort with the Strange in Andrea Kleine's Calf". National Post.

Further reading[edit]

  • 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[edit]