John Hinckley Jr: The Reason Ronald Reagan’s Attempted Assassin Was Found Not Guilty

It’s wild to think that someone would try to kill a sitting president in order to impress a Hollywood actress but that’s what happened when John Hinckley Jr. fired six bullets at President Ronald Reagan and others on March 30, 1981, according to History. Fortunately, no one was killed that day, but as the motivations for Hinckley’s assassination attempt unfolded, his attorneys felt they had a good argument for an insanity plea in the high-profile case — and they went for it. 

According to Encyclopedia, the judge in the case further bolstered Hinckley’s chances of being found not guilty by reason of insanity when he said he’d hear the case under federal procedural rules which stipulate that it’s the prosecution’s job to prove Hinckley was sane rather than the defense’s task to prove he was indeed insane. Thanks to Hinckley’s behavior in the late 1970s leading up to the attempted assassination, a jury agreed that even though Hinckley definitely was the shooter that day, he also met the criteria for legal insanity, which FindLaw explains as, “defendants must prove to the court that they didn’t understand what they were doing; failed to know right from wrong; acted on an uncontrollable impulse; or some variety of these factors.”

John Hinckley Jr. was stalking Jodie Foster

In Hinckley’s case, he had become obsessed with the 1976 movie “Taxi Driver” and its central character, Travis Bickle, an unhinged Vietnam Veteran who himself thought he could win the love of the woman of his choosing by killing a presidential candidate, according to IMBd.

Actress Jodie Foster was in the film, playing a teenage sex worker, and it was Foster whom John Hinckley Jr. was trying to impress by killing Ronald Reagan. According to History, by the time of the shooting, Hinckley had already stalked Foster, sent her copious letters and poems professing his love, called her on the phone, and tried to track her down and meet her in person, all to no avail. 

The day he shot Reagan and three others, Hinckley wrote Foster a letter that said, “Dear Jodie, There is a definite possibility that I will be killed in my attempt to get Reagan. It is for this reason that I am writing you this letter now … I am asking you to please look into your heart and at least give me the chance, with this historical deed, to gain your respect and love. I love you forever,”  Encyclopedia reported.

Hinckley is now approved for an unconditional release

In then end the jury agreed that Hinckley was insane when he made a premeditated attempt on President Reagan’s life. After the trial, Hinckley spent more than three decades in a psychiatric hospital but in 2016 he was deemed no longer a threat to society and allowed to go live with his elderly mother. During that time he was still under court supervision and had to continue psychiatric care, per NBC News.

Then on September 27, 2021, forty years after he sought to win the love of Jodie Foster by killing Ronald Reagan, a judge granted Hinckley an unconditional release in 2022 if he can hold it together for that long. According to NPR, Hinckley will remain under some kind of supervision for the next nine months to see how he handles life on his own. His mother died over the summer and one of his doctors is retiring soon. Along with that, Hinckley’s therapy group is dissipating, NPR reported. 

For now, the Department of Behavioral Health says that Hinckley poses a “low risk for future violence.” If concerns arise, the Justice Department will file a motion with the courts, according to NPR. In the meantime, Hinckley’s orders include leaving Jodie Foster alone, along with those he shot, and their families. 

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