John Hinckley on Trial for the Attempted Assassination of President Ronald Reagan

U.S. v. Hinckley, 525 F. Supp. 1342 (D.D.C. 1981)

The film Taxi Driver, released in 1976, tells the story of Travis Bickle, a homicidal cabbie who wants to assassinate a presidential candidate. When his plans fail, he opts instead to rescue a child prostitute named Iris, played by 12-year-old Jodie Foster, by shooting her pimp, her john, and the manager of the hotel where she works.

John Hinckley Jr. was 26 when the movie premiered. He began drinking peach brandy and wearing army boots like Bickle. And he began to stalk Jodie Foster. When the Oscar-nominated actress demonstrated no romantic interest in the unbalanced college dropout, Hinckley decided to assassinate the president to impress her.

On March 30, 1981, Ronald Reagan was leaving the Hilton Hotel in Washington, D.C. Hinckley, loitering by the poorly secured exit, shot at Reagan six times, hitting his target only because the bullet ricocheted off the presidential limousine and into Reagan’s chest. He wounded a police officer, a Secret Service agent, and press secretary James Brady; the attack left Brady partially paralyzed.

At trial, the prosecution argued Hinckley’s mimicry of Bickle was conscious, his fixation on Foster a choice. The defense countered that these were the compulsions of a schizophrenic. Hinckley was found not guilty by reason of insanity on June 21, 1982. National outrage at this verdict was so severe that Idaho, Montana, and Utah abolished the insanity defense.