On March 30, 1981, a tragedy struck the United States of America when drifter John Hinckley Jr. attempted to assassinate its 40th President, Ronald Wilson Reagan. Despite the President’s miraculous survival, punitive measures were anticipated against his attacker.
As a result of a shocking turn of events, the verdict falls far short of public expectations. The aspiring assassin is, however, free to live a life beyond his criminal record after his unconditional release on June 15, 2022, 41 years after the assassination attempt.
Who was John Hinckley Jr., and why did he attempt to kill the President? Moreover, why, after decades, has he been given freedom?
The Life That Drowned Him in Trouble
Hinckley grew up in a wealthy family in Texas, where he gained most of his education. After successfully graduating from high school in 1974, he moved with his family to Evergreen, Colorado, due to a family business setup. But Hinckley did not focus much on his higher education and eventually dropped out of University.
While in his early twenties, Hinckley aspired to become a songwriter in LA, but it was a terrible failure. After struggling for money, he returned to his family home in 1976, where he developed a fascination for weapons. Due to his constant failures, he was prescribed antidepressants, yet no one could have predicted the future that ensued.
At this point, Hinckley was evidently struggling with mental health issues. It was as if his emotions heightened with an intensity that then preceded great tragedy in many lives.
His Appalling Attempt to Assassinate President Reagan
A few years later, in March of 1981, while the newly appointed President Reagan of the U.S was leaving the Washington Hilton Hotel after addressing a labour meeting, Hinckley was standing among the reporters. Suddenly, he fired his revolver six times, wounding Reagan and three of his attendants.
As a result, Hinckley found himself bashed against the ground. Amid the chaos, the President, police officer Thomas Delahanty, Secret Service Agent Timothy McCarthy, and wounded press secretary James Brady were all rushed to a nearby hospital. They were all critically wounded.
Despite having a collapsed lung, Reagan was unbelievably lucky to live, and while his wounds were still fresh, he resumed his duties at the White House on April 11. Moreover, he gained enormous support from the public, who considered him a national hero.
However, none of it meant the gunshot wounds did not make him suffer. Reportedly, Reagan experienced the pain of the fatal injury for years, but he did not surrender to it. Nevertheless, in the public’s eye, it was necessary to punish the man behind the atrocious crime.
His Unhealthy Obsession with A Movie Star
Hinckley, on the other hand, was arrested on the same day of the assassination attempt and subsequently booked on federal charges. He also had a criminal record of being arrested in Tennessee for weapon possession.
However, in 1982, at his trial in Washington, Hinckley escaped all counts of 13 offences and was eventually found not guilty of the charges. The verdict was based on his insanity, as the defence psychiatrists viewed him as a pathological narcissist obsessed with Jodie Foster, the actress from the movie Taxi Driver, 1976.
Further investigation revealed that Hinckley was head over heels in love with Foster but most creepily. While the narrative in the movie depicts a main character’s attempt to assassinate a fictional presidential candidate, Hinckley reenacted scenes to impress Foster.
For years, he did everything to attract attention from his eerily one-sided love. To get closer to Foster, he also moved to Connecticut for a while. There, he would send her countless messages and love letters and even tried calling her. Yet, nothing gave him satisfaction.
Thus, right before leaving to kill the president, Hinckley wrote to Foster, “Jodie, I’m asking you to please look into your heart and at least give the chance, with this historical deed, to gain your love and respect.”
A Public Backlash of Insanity Followed the Verdict
Hinckley also planned on killing himself in front of Foster so she would realize his infatuation for her. However, he settled on assassinating the president because it seemed the best option to equal his status to the movie star. Evidently, despite the treatment, his mental health was deteriorating each day.
Yet, to the majority public, the verdict of “not guilty by reason of insanity” seemed a perplexing mistake. Despite Hinckley’s disorders, no one expected an assassin to be allowed freedom. Consequently, he was confined to St. Elizabeth’s Hospital, where he would no longer be a threat to himself or others.
Hinckley’s attorney argued that he deserved as much conventional life as any other human being and had no control over his diagnosis. Thus, following 1999, he was permitted to leave the hospital to meet his parents under supervision.
Gradually, by 2005, a judge also ruled to allow him to visit his family home. After a few years, the psychiatrists revealed that Hinckley showed immense improvement in his behaviour and held no harm towards anyone, including himself.
Decades After Staying Hidden, He Is Finally Granted an Unconditional Release
However, in 2014, James Brady, the press secretary of President Reagan, died due to a disability caused by the gunshot wounds in 1981. Thirty-three years after he was shot by Hinckley, his death was declared a homicide. Yet, Hinckley was not obliged to face any charges because he was found not guilty to the original.
In 2016, fueling everyone’s disappointment, a federal judge granted permission to Hinckley to be released from the psychiatric hospital. Then onwards, he had full liberty to live with his mother, albeit with many conditions.
Hinckley was not allowed to watch violent content nor come close to possessing or showing interest in weapons. He had no authority over contacting any of his victim or their families. Hinckley was also prohibited from posting his art, music, or anything that revealed his identity for public consumption.
Nevertheless, it all went downhill on September 21, 2021, when his appeal for full unconditional release was approved. Consequently, on June 15, 2022, Hinckley was released after 41 years of his assassination attempt on President Reagan. He is not considered a threat anymore and has acquired complete freedom to continue his life as he desires.