June 21

This Day in History

General Interest

Jun 21, 1982:

Hinckley not guilty by reason of insanity

John W. Hinckley, Jr., who on March 30, 1981, shot President Ronald Reagan and three others outside a Washington, D.C., hotel, was found not guilty of attempted murder by reason of insanity. In the trial, Hinckley's defense attorneys argued that their client was ill with narcissistic personality disorder, citing medical evidence, and had a pathological obsession with the 1976 film Taxi Driver, in which the main character attempts to assassinate a fictional senator. His lawyers claimed that Hinckley had watched the movie more than a dozen times, was obsessed with the lead actress, Jodie Foster, and had attempted to reenact the events of the film in his own life. The movie, not Hinckley, they successfully argued, was the actual planning force behind the events that occurred on March 30, 1981.

On that day, in front of the Washington Hilton, Hinckley had fired six shots at the president, hitting Reagan and three of his attendants, including Press Secretary James Brady, who was shot in the head and suffered permanent brain damage. The president was shot in the left lung and the .22-caliber bullet just missed his heart. In the aftermath, Hinckley was overpowered and pinned against a wall, and President Reagan, apparently unaware that he'd been shot, was shoved into his limousine by a Secret Service agent and rushed to the hospital. The president fared well, and after 12 days in the hospital he returned to the White House.

John Hinckley was booked on federal charges of attempting to assassinate the president. He had previously been arrested in Tennessee on weapons charges. The June 1982 verdict of "not guilty by reason of insanity" aroused widespread public criticism, and many were shocked that a would-be presidential assassin could avoid being held accountable for his crime. However, because of his obvious threat to society, he was placed in St. Elizabeth's Hospital, a mental institution. In the late 1990s, Hinckley's attorney began arguing that Hinkley's mental illness was in remission and thus he had a right to return to a normal life. Beginning in August 1999, he was allowed supervised day trips off the hospital grounds and later was allowed to visit his parents once a week unsupervised. The Secret Service voluntarily monitors him during these outings. If his mental illness remains in remission, he may one day be released.

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