In “The Trial of John W.
Hinckley, Jr.”, Douglas O Linder, illustrates how the use of the Insanity
Defense changed after the verdict of not guilty by the reason of insanity was
ruled in the trial of John Hinckley Jr., for the attempted assassination of
President Ronald Reagan. After the verdict passed in 1982, many states
implanted huge reforms of laws that controlled the use of the Insanity Defense.
John Hinckley Jr.’s motive in trying to assassinate the president all started
back when Hinckley dropped out of school in 1976, and moved to Hollywood to
focus on becoming a musician.
“While in Hollywood, Hinckley first viewed a movie, Taxi
Driver that seemed to give dramatic content to his misery and meaning to
his life” (Linder). This began Hinckley’s obsession with “Travis Bickle” who
was the main character in Taxi Driver. In the film, “Bickle” considers
assassinating a political figure and rescues a prostitute named “Iris” played
by Jodie Foster. Hinckley begins to imitate and act like “Travis Bickle” as a
way to help cope with his depression. In 1977, failing to become a musician,
Hinckley returns to Texas Tech in which his depression worsened. In 1980,
Hinckley convinces his parents to give him $3,600 for a writing course in Yale.
But his main intentions of going to Yale was not to attend a writing course but
to because that was where Jodie Foster attended college. Hinckley would leave
letters and poems for Foster, but never approached her do to his shyness. Failing
to win the love of Foster, Hinckley begins to stalk someone else.
Hinckley then begins to follow President Carter at his
campaigns in different cities across the country, with the intentions of
assassinating him. Over the course of several weeks Hinckley would fly out to
different cities to continue stalking the president and purchasing guns.
Eventually Hinckley runs out of the $3,600 his parents gave him and returns
home to Colorado. Hinckley then starts to meet Dr. John Hopper after he
overdosed on antidepressants. From his evaluation of Hinckley, Hopper suggested
to his parents to “push John toward emotional and financial independence”
(Linder). But Hopper did not know about Hinckley’s obsession with Taxi
Hinckley then began flying to cities where the new President,
Ronald Reagan was. In 1980, Hinckley recorded a monologue in which he explains
of how he would commit suicide if he did not win the Foster’s love. Once again Hinckley returns home to Colorado
where Hinckley’s father kicked him and out of their home because he could not
find a job. Hinckley then flies to Washington D.C. on March 29. On March 30,
after finding out that President Ronald Reagan was going to be at a labor
convention, Hinckley begins to prepare his plan. First Hinckley writes a letter
to Foster explaining that the main reason for the assassination attempt was
because he wanted to “impress” and to gain her “respect and love” (Linder).
When Hinckley finally confronts President Reagan, he
fires six shots in which only one bullet struck Reagan. The President survived
the shooting and Hinckley was quickly arrested. “With dozens of witnesses and
the shooting captured on videotape, the government as well as John Hinckley’s
own defense lawyer, Vince Fuller that the only plausible defense was the
insanity defense” (Linder). Hinckley was sent to a penitentiary in Butner,
North Carolina, where psychiatrists evaluated Hinckley. “All the government psychiatrists
concluded that Hinckley was legally sane—the he appreciated the wrongfulness of
his act—at the time of the shooting” (Linder). But Hinckley’s defense psychiatrists
argued that Hinckley was “psychotic and legally insane—at the time of the
shooting” (Linder). While Hinckley was waiting for the trial, he tried to
commit suicide twice and failed both times.
Hinckley demanded for Jodie Foster to testify in court,
or he would not work with his defense team. Hinckley was severely disappointed
when Foster testified on March 30, 1982 because Foster did not react the way he
intended to be. The prosecution witnesses consisted of a police officer, a
secret service agent, and a neurosurgeon. Prosecutor Roger Adelman tried to
prove premeditation by pointing out Hinckley in a video footage of Carter’s
campaign and providing a testimony of an individual who works at the Colorado
Rifle Range who said that he spotted Hinckley target practicing on December,
1980. Hinckley’s defense attorney then started by asking Hinckley’s mother
about letters that were sent to them by Hinckley when he was in college, in the
letters Hinckley would mention made up characters. Then Attorney Robert Chapman
cross-examined Hinckley’s mother by asking why she reportedly told Hopper
“things are fine” before the shooting.
Hinckley’s father also testified about how he did not
provide for Hinckley when he was financially unstable after kicking him out.
And that it was his fault for everything that happened. When Dr. John Hopper
testified, he mentioned that John wrote an autobiography in November 1980,
which included statements like “a relationship I had dreamed about” that “went
absolutely nowhere” (Linder). Hopper concluded that he misdiagnosed Hinckley
because he “failed to appreciate the seriousness of the warnings in the
autobiography” (Linder). After the testimony of Foster was shown to the Jury,
Foster explains during questioning that the letters sent by Hinckley were
similar to these in Taxi Driver. Expert witness Dr. William Carpenter
explained that Hinckley was suffering from Schizophrenia based on hours of
interaction between the two.
Carpenter explains that Hinckley would come to thing that
he was actually Travis Bickle and that he was John Lennon because he would play
his guitar in his dorm and hotel rooms. So when Lennon died this made Hinckley
nuts. Furthermore, Carpenter shows how Hinckley felt that he needed to save
Foster. Carpenter finished of his testimony by concluding that the president
and other individuals were in Hinckley’s way of winning Foster’s love. Dr.
David Bear, another expert witness, agreed with Carpenter but said that
Hinckley felt as if Travis Bickle was communicating with him. He also mentions
that he was not faking illnesses, because he was showing signs of someone who
is mentally ill. CAT scans of Hinckley also shows that the sulci in his brain
was out of proportion which is similar to that of one in three schizophrenics.
Dr. Ernest Prelinger testified that Hinckley’s I.Q. was similar to that of a
normal person, but the “Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory” (Linder)
showed that Hinckley “was near the peak of abnormality” (Linder).
Dr. Park Dietz, part of the prosecution, explained that
according to the governments psychiatric team, Hinckley was suffering from
personality disorders, but was not in any way or form insane of psychotic. Dr.
Dietz also stated that Hinckley’s frequent travelling shows that Hinckley was
planning out his moves. Hinckley’s choice of specific ammo and the timing of
when to shoot also proved planning.
After the closing arguments, Judge Barrington gave instructions
to the jurors. “Most importantly Parker told the jurors that the prosecution
had the burden of showing beyond a reasonable doubt that Hinckley was not
insane: that on March 30, 1981 he could appreciate the wrongfulness of his
actions” (Linder). After the verdict came in it was found all thirteen counts
were ruled “Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity.” Within a month of the verdict,
Congress started to make changes in laws that had to do with the Insanity Defense.
“Two-thirds of the states placed the burden of proof of insanity to the defense”
(Linder). Many other reforms on laws took place on the following years. Hinckley
was sent to St. Elizabeth’s Hospital where he would be let go once “he is no longer
a threat, because of his mental illness, to himself or other” (Linder). In 2016
Judge Paul Friedman demanded the release of Hinckley because he no longer posed