John Hinckley Jr attempted to assassinate President Ronald Reagan in 1981. Reagan and three other people were injured but nobody was killed in the attack and Hinckley was arrested. It became clear to the court, however, that Hinckley was psychotic and cognitively detached from reality so he was therefore confined to a mental hospital rather than a jail. Evidence included CT scans which indicated he was schizophrenic.
His case was especially intriguing not just because he attempted to assassinate the president but because his assassination attempt was apparently motivated by seeing the 1976 film “Taxi Driver” which starred Robert DeNiro and Jodie Foster. He saw himself in the main character, played by DeNiro, who planned to assassinate a senator. In addition, he developed an unhealthy obsession with actress Jodie Foster, who played a child prostitute in the movie that DeNiro’s character attempts to save from her dangerous life. Hinckley evidently stalked Foster prior to the assassination attempt.
On Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Paul L. Friedman ruled that Hinckley no longer poses a danger and can finally leave the psychiatric hospital for good. He will be allowed to live with his elderly mother. Even though he is no longer confined to a hospital he will still be subject to a range of restrictions. He must return to the hospital at least once per month for outpatient treatment. He must also report for paid or volunteer work at least three times per week and if he fails to show up he must immediately be reported to the authorities.
“Mr. Hinckley has received the maximum benefits possible in the inpatient setting,” Friedman wrote in a 103-page opinion. “The court finds by the preponderance of the evidence that Mr. Hinckley will not be a danger to himself or to others if released on full-time convalescent leave to Williamsburg under the conditions proposed.”
To this day, there are still those who refuse to accept that Hinckley’s actions were motivated my mental illness.
“I think it’s terribly sad and wrong,” Patti Davis, one of Reagan’s daughters, said of his release.
“If John Hinckley is haunted by anything, I think it’s that he didn’t succeed in his mission to assassinate the president.”
Hinckley being found not guilty by reason of insanity prompted a furious public backlash. Laws across the country were rewritten to make it much more difficult for an insanity defense to be successful.