Federal prosecutors said they will not charge John W. Hinckley Jr. with murder in the shooting of President Ronald Reagan’s press secretary in a 1981 assassination attempt, even though a medical examiner concluded his August death was caused by the old wounds.
The decision, announced Friday by the U.S. Attorney for the District, comes four months after the coroner decided that James S. Brady’s death at the age of 73 was caused by bullets fired 34 years ago outside the Washington Hilton on Connecticut Avenue Northwest. Reagan, just 69 days into his presidency, was severely wounded. Brady was struck first, above the left eye, and the bullet shattered in his head into fragments.
“The decision was made following a review of applicable law, the history of the case, and the circumstances of Mr. Brady’s death, including recently finalized autopsy findings,” the U.S. attorney’s office said in a statement.
The medical examiner’s ruling presented law enforcement authorities with a difficult decision whether to file new charges against the shooter, Hinckley, who has been treated at St. Elizabeths psychiatric hospital since his trial. The 59-year-old was found not guilty by reason of insanity .
Hinckley’s attorney, Barry Wm. Levine, said in August that the prosecutors would “face insurmountable legal barriers” should they bring a case, arguing that the basic elements of the crime have not changed since the shooting. Hinckley told authorities he hoped that killing Reagan would impress the actress Jodie Foster. Brady and his wife, Sarah, became leading advocates of gun control and fought for years for passage of legislation requiring background checks on handgun purchases.
Hinckley had become obsessed with Foster after seeing her in Martin Scorsese and Paul Schrader’s Taxi Driver in which she played a teenaged prostitute.
Just as the film’s anti-hero “Travis Bickle” (Robert DeNiro) sought to save “Iris” (Jodie) from prostitution so Hinckley, who had stalked her on the campus of Yale University where she was taking her studies sought to “save” Jodie from lesbianism. Killing Ronald Reagan, he figured, would doubtless impress her, as would his otherwise “sensitive” demeanor, typical of psychotic assassins besotted with The Catcher in the Rye
While in Virginia, Hinckley is under strict rules. He may drive, but only to “destinations where people will be expecting him.” He is allowed six unsupervised outings away from his mother’s house, each lasting up to four hours. He is barred from visiting any areas where the president or members of Congress might be. Even the times of his daytime strolls in Williamsburg are tightly regulated. And attorneys are still debating how much Internet time Hinckley should be allowed while in Virginia.
Levine argued that the concept of double-jeopardy — which protects defendants from being charged twice with the same crime — would prohibit the filing of a murder charge because the basic elements of the offense have not changed. Hinckley was charged with 13 counts, two of them related to Brady’s shooting: assault with intent to kill and a firearms offense. But other attorneys point to a ruling from the U.S Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit upholding a murder charge against a defendant who had years earlier been convicted of assault with intent to kill. The court said the “events necessary” for the new change did not exist until the victim died.
How convenient. Would that other stalker-killers had such an excuse
That same ruling also abolished the District’s year-and-a-day provision, which prohibited murder charges in deaths that occurred 367 or more days after wounds were inflicted. The judges did not make their ruling retroactive, and Levine said he believes it remains binding under rules that governed the case in 1981.
In addition, legal experts said that even with the medical examiner’s ruling, prosecutors might have a hard time proving to a jury that a bullet fired 33 years ago caused Brady’s death in August. They said defense lawyers would likely argue that some other ailment caused or contributed to the death. Was the bullet a proximate cause of Brady’s death, or was his death inevitable from old age. Levine said in August there are an “infinite number” of possible “intervening causes.”
There are an infinite number of future scenarios for Hinckley — a fact Jodie Foster is doubtless aware of in the wake of proclaiming her sexual orientation rather than “repenting” it as Hinckley would wish.
Ronald Reagan is dead. James Brady is dead. But Jodie Foster is still alive and has had this unwanted — and needless to say undeserved — (in)fame hovering over her for years, and it will continue to do so until Hinckley buys the farm.