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Criminal Justice

Hinckley Beat the System, May Soon Be Sipping Coffee in Williamsburg, Reagan’s Daughter Says

Posted Mar 30, 2011 9:29 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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Thirty years after John Hinckley Jr. shot Ronald Reagan, the would-be assassin is allowed to visit his mother 12 times a year in 10-day visits. On the grounds of a psychiatric hospital in Washington, D.C., he plays guitar, works at the library, and sits in the sun. He is allowed trips to the bowling alley and the beach. He has had several girlfriends.

Reagan’s daughter Patti Davis contrasts Hinckley’s life with that of his still-living victims: former White House press secretary James Brady, Secret Service agent Timothy McCarthy and police officer Thomas Delahanty. She writes about their difficulties in an article for Time magazine published on the anniversary of Hinckley's attempt to impress actress Jodi Foster by killing Ronald Reagan.

Delahanty was forced to retire because of permanent nerve damage. McCarthy is a suburban police chief, but he worries about the impact on his family. Brady is paralyzed on one side and almost completely blind. He screams almost every night in his sleep.

Hinckley’s lawyer, Barry Levine, is planning to win his client’s release under laws that require freedom for those who are no longer a danger to themselves or others. “So Hinckley might in time reside as a free man in Williamsburg,” Davis writes, “stopping at the local coffee shop, browsing bookstores, maybe venturing onto the local tennis courts and golf courses."

Davis thinks Hinckley got off easy after his acquittal by reason of insanity. “There are times when the American legal system works brilliantly,” she writes. “There are times when it fails. The story of John Hinckley should always include this: As far as the victims are concerned, he beat the legal system. He had wealthy parents who bought him a tenacious lawyer. Neither Levine nor Hinckley will be awakened in the night by Jim Brady's screams. Sarah Brady will go to her husband, night after night, and remember a time before Hinckley loaded his gun with exploding bullets and aimed to kill.”

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