JOHN HINCKLEY

In 2000 I wrote a piece for Time magazine about John Hinckley’s first attempt to get unsupervised visits into Williamsburg, Virginia. He was already allowed supervised day trips off the grounds of Saint Elizabeths Hospital. It was a lengthy article for which I interviewed Hinckley’s attorney, Barry Levine, as well as a federal prosecutor and a Secret Service agent who would only speak on background. The piece got a lot of media attention, prompting Barry Levine to withdraw his request for the unsupervised visits. But I knew he was only biding his time. He would wait until people forgot and then try again.

That’s exactly what he did, and he succeeded. Over the years, Hinckley’s freedom was increased incrementally so that by 2011 when I again wrote a piece for Time on the 30th anniversary of the shooting, John Hinckley was visiting his mother in Williamsburg for 10 day stays 12 times a year. He was required to be accompanied by either his (then) 85 year old mother or a sibling whenever he went out and to carry a GPS-enabled cell phone.

Now, what Barry Levine has been working toward all these years has happened: his client, who shot four people including the President of the United States will get his freedom. He will have to check in sometimes with his doctors, and he will have to live with his 90 year old mother, which shouldn’t cramp his style too much given her age and infirmities. His doctors have said that his psychosis and depression have been in remission for decades and his narcissistic personality disorder has lessened…quite a feat since narcissistic personality disorder is considered incurable.

In 2000, when I interviewed Barry Levine, I found him to be loquacious to a fault. He expounded upon Hinckley’s remorse, the hard work he’d done at Saint Elizabeths, his miraculous recovery from an incurable psychological disorder. He said Hinckley “regrets this event more than anything. He is haunted by what he did — more so than when he was sick and didn’t fully understand what he had done. Now he understands the stark horror of his actions.” He also wanted me to meet with Hinckley and offer him forgiveness. I didn’t put this exchange in my article but Mr. Levine said to me, “The Pope forgave the man who shot him.” I replied, “That’s why he’s the Pope and I’m not.”

For purposes of review, here are a few other things Hinckley was doing at Saint Elizabeths: Writing to mass murderers Ted Bundy and Charles Manson. Federal prosecutors reported this to the hospital doctors who didn’t know because they hadn’t wanted to invade Hinckley’s privacy by searching his room. He’s had several girlfriends, most notably Leslie deVeau who killed her 10 year old daughter with a 12 gauge semiautomatic shotgun while the girl slept, then tried to kill herself but only managed to shoot off her left arm.

On that chilly March day in 1981, John Hinckley was patient. At 1:45, he waved as my father stepped out of the limousine and walked into the hotel to deliver a speech. Then he waited. He had a girl in mind he wanted to impress. Surely Jody Foster would notice him if he assassinated the President. At 2:25 when my father walked back outside, Hinckley yelled, “President Reagan!  President Reagan!” Then he crouched like a marksman and fired six shots. Four lives were changed in a matter of minutes.

He ended up with attorney who is also patient, who has been willing to take his time and move slowly to get what he wants: freedom for John Hinckley. In 1982 when the verdict came down — not guilty by reason of insanity — the nation was shocked. Dan Rather said on his nightly broadcast, “If John Hinckley has the will (and he’s shown he is willful) and the way (and his family is rich), he will probably down the road ask to be released from Saint Elizabeths on the grounds that he is no longer dangerous. And sooner or later, a panel of experts may nod and say yes.” I remember getting chilled when I heard Mr. Rather’s commentary all those years ago. Something in me knew he was right even though everything in me hoped he was wrong. I’m not surprised by this latest development, but my heart is sickened.

When my father was lying in a hospital bed recovering from the gunshots that nearly killed him, he said, “I know my ability to heal depends on my willingness to forgive John Hinckley.” I too believe in forgiveness. But forgiving someone in your heart doesn’t mean that you let them loose in Virginia to pursue whatever dark agendas they may still hold dear.

I will forever be haunted by a drizzly March afternoon when my father almost died, when Jim Brady lay in a pool of blood and two other men — Thomas Delahanty and Timothy McCarthy — were gravely wounded. If John Hinckley is haunted by anything, I think it’s that he didn’t succeed in his mission to assassinate the President.

 

35 Responses to JOHN HINCKLEY

  1. Mick Bysshe says:

    Thanks, Patti–if a religious leader life was threatened by an act of violence, we would not expect any of his family members to want to give the perpetrator one iota of freedom.

    • George Gruel says:

      Perfect. Simply perfect. Thank you for your wisdom and your way with words. Hinkley should not be allow roam, other than, perhaps, his mother’s basement.

      • MARTY says:

        35 years of wasted money keeping him alive ! He should’ve gotten the death penalty for attempted murder on a U.S. president .

    • Patricia Sullivan Webb says:

      One of my best friends is Debra Tate, the younger sister of Sharon Tate. She has made keeping all those who were convictedin the murder of her sister, friends and the Lo Bianco’s, in jail for the rest of their lives. By a stroke of luck, Debra was not at Sharon’s home that fateful night. I agree with you, Patti. The kinds of mental
      Illnesses John Hinckley has do not have a cure. Two days of not taking his medicines could lead him straight back to his murdeous path. I am deeply sorry he was released. I know how fearful you must feel as I’ve watched Debra move to the sticks in order to stay secluded and safe, fearing copy cat murderers who have threatened her too many times to count. I also understand your frustration with a penal system that seems to think all mentally ill people can be cured.

  2. patrick says:

    I’m sorry…but I think his release, no matter how supervised it may be..would send a bad message..what this man did is outrageous..he needs to be kept away from us..Thanks for writing about this Patti,I’m sure it’s not easy to think about

  3. Carol Davis says:

    I totally agree. I hope he never gets out.
    I saw the recent article about his current living situation and was appalled.
    I don’t care how remorseful his lawyer says he is. He tried to murder someone, and not just anybody, but the President of the U.S., and even more importantly, your father.
    Good luck and best wishes.

    • This man should never ever get out of jail he paralyzed one man I just passed away he almost killed the president and they going to let this man walk the street are you kidding

  4. Kerry Burgess says:

    Would the mainstream media notice if we formed a protest march?

  5. Hank Harper says:

    He shot the greatest president in U.S history. What’s wrong here. Should have been in prison for life.

  6. Danny says:

    His obsession was with Jodie Foster, so I wonder why she isn’t saying anything about this, especially because she has kids.

  7. elaine says:

    Just doesn’t make sense to me that he’s, basically, being released to his 90 year-old mother for whatever supervision he’ll have. And….what happens when she’s gone? He shot not be released. Ever.

  8. Christine Sandidge says:

    I’m so sickened and quite frankly scared that this evil person has been let back out permanently into society. Not just society but right down the road from my own home. Sometimes I do not understand our justice system. He will not be supervised at all and now we are all at risk. I’m amazed that I will now be able to run into him anytime, anywhere. It’s crazy. I’m sorry that you are having to re-live all of this again as well. My thoughts are with you Patti.

  9. I am so sorry, Patti. Thank you for writing this piece. When I heard this news earlier today I thought about you and Jodie Foster first thing. Just. Not. Right.

  10. Norma Jane Henry says:

    I have difficulty feeling “stunned” by anything happening in our judicial systems today. I think,perhaps, your beautiful Mother’s death has released those involved from their moral sense. I am very happy She did not have to suffer this day.

  11. […] ‘I know my ability to heal depends on my willingness to forgive John Hinckley’,” she wrote at length on her web site. “I too believe in forgiveness. But forgiving someone in your heart […]

  12. […] on her official website, Patti Davis says she’s mortified Hinckley is now out of prison after his 1981 assassination […]

  13. David Marks says:

    For me, there can be no discussion, not by way of reason, and for those of us who are ardent advocates of gun laws, this is a primal test case. If the President had died, there would be no banter, God forbid, but the entire scenario rested with intent, and Hinkley’s intent was explosive, .We must view this assassination attempt as something violent and horrific, and the law must treat Hinkley in the same manner it would if the president had died. I’m not going to qualify my feelings on this matter. Releasing Hinckley has far more to of with the survivors and their families than anyone else. This is an act of shame, and by releasing Hinckley, we are affirming and validating situations where assassination attempts are cruel acts of martyrdom, and nothing more. No, Hinckley has no place in a free America.

  14. Diane Bourdeau says:

    Hi Patti,

    I to am greatly saddened to hear about Hinckleys release in a few days.
    Your father, and mother were both wonderful people. Our country was so lucky to have your Dad as our president, and your mother as our First Lady.

    I am sorry for what you , and your family had to suffer through from this person. I am frightened for our country today knowing that he is going to be released from the mental hospital.

  15. […] sad and wrong,” Patti Davis, one of Reagan’s daughters, said in a telephone interview. In a blog post on her website, Ms. Davis wrote that she had long been haunted by the […]

  16. […] and wrong,” Patti Davis, one of Reagan’s daughters, said in a telephone interview. In a blog post on her website, Ms. Davis wrote that she had long been haunted by the […]

  17. […] but my heart is sickened,” wrote Ronald Reagan’s daughter Patti Reagan Davis on her website on Wednesday. “I will forever be haunted by a drizzly March afternoon when my father […]

  18. Daniel J Black says:

    As you have so eloquently have written about, forgiveness does not mean letting loose such a someone.

    Shame on the judge who ordered this.

  19. […] sad and wrong,” Patti Davis, one of Reagan’s daughters, said in a telephone interview. In a blog post on her website, Ms. Davis wrote that she had long been haunted by the […]

  20. Mark says:

    I’m shocked they let this animal out! Who in the hell is going to supervise him??

    Great job articulating Patti your article was spot on! Hinckely will get his due!!

  21. Lindsay Brice says:

    Dear Patti,
    I am deeply saddened by this decision, which we know is unwise. NPD is incurable, and those with it have a tremendous talent for one thing: manipulation.
    This is a terrible decision. He should not be free, unsupervised. I am so sorry for the pain you must feel. Many of us share great pain that this sick man will be out. It’s not right. He fooled them. For now.
    I can only hope he finds himself back at St. Elizabeth’s soon.
    Stay safe.
    My heart is with you.
    Lindsay

  22. […] ‘I know my ability to heal depends on my willingness to forgive John Hinckley’,” she wrote at length on her web site. “I too believe in forgiveness. But forgiving someone in your heart […]

  23. […] and wrong,” Patti Davis, one of Reagan’s daughters, said in a telephone interview. In a blog post on her website, Ms. Davis wrote that she had long been haunted by the […]

  24. […] ‘I know my ability to heal depends on my willingness to forgive John Hinckley’,” she wrote at length on her web site. “I too believe in forgiveness. But forgiving someone in your heart […]

  25. […] sad and wrong,” Patti Davis, one of Reagan’s daughters, said in a telephone interview. In a blog post on her website, Ms. Davis wrote that she had long been haunted by the […]

  26. Karen Osborne says:

    Thank you for sharing details of Hinckley’s life. Rehabilitated? I can say in good conscience after reading this, no. I no longer believe in hope for him.
    Jodie Foster must be contacted forthwith.

  27. […] is not without controversy, obviously. Patti Davis, one of Reagan’s daughters, wrote a must-read blog post on her blog, where she talks about how haunted she is by her father’s shooting and how she […]

  28. Adele Barusek says:

    I am so shocked to hear about Hinckley’s release. I am sure that he is still a very dangerous man. I don’t understand how someone could be free after attempting to kill the President of the United States. I am so sorry that he is free.

  29. […] he should remain locked up. Davis wrote extensively about the decision to release Hinckley on her website. She […]

  30. Maritza says:

    Dear Patti,

    It was a sad day for me to have heard of this man’s release. I still remember back in 1981, when I heard the news of the shooting to our new President, what an awful day that was bringing chills to my spine. I have done a lot of reading and research about Narcissitic Personality Disorder the last three years for personal reasons and my findings are that there is no cure, and actually no treatment only talk therapy and most importantly the individuals affected by this disorder need a lot of family support which my question is “How can a 90 year old elderly mother provide support” to a son that has been institutionalized for thirty five years while she has her own illnesses to deal with and she continues to age into her 90’s. Has a Social Worker assessed her capability to deal with this, honestly? And what about when his mother passes away, will that trigger Hinckley to have “negative, paranoid, grandiose or disorganized thinking again” those are rebound effects from stress. I hope not, I hope St. Elizabeth’s rehab can stand up to what they claim to have provided him with the tools that will keep our USA citizens safe, our children safe. Let’s look at this picture in 2, 3, 4 or five years, he will still be a man with years ahead of himself.
    FACTS: —There is no known cure for NPD
    —People who suffer from NPD rarely seek out treatment or therapy
    —They tend to blame others and project negative thoughts
    —NPD people are good at pretending, do not feel compassion or
    empathy

    I thank you for your article and allowing me to post.

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