The world learned today that a judge has granted freedom to presidential assassin John Hinckley Jr., the man who in 1981 attempted to kill Ronald Reagan in an ill-conceived “love offering” to Taxi Driver actress Jodie Foster. The news may come as a shock to many, but those who have been keeping close tabs on the Hinckley case knew that this day was inevitable. In May, Washingtonian writer Eddie Dean penned an eerily compelling article entitled “How John Hinckley Lives Now,” detailing the 61-year-old Hinckley’s current lifestyle and describing in detail the surprising amount of freedom and autonomy he had already been granted in recent years.
The “bohemian” son of a well-to-do family, Hinckley traveled to Los Angeles in the 1970s to pursue his dreams of a music career. That’s where he saw Taxi Driver 15 times and became obsessed with Foster. After his infamous assassination attempt, Hinckley was found not guilty by reason of insanity. Since then, his permanent home has been St. Elizabeths, a psychiatric hospital in Washington, D.C. But for many years now, Hinckley has been allowed furloughs to visit his elderly mother at her home in Williamsburg, Virginia. In fact, these days, Hinckley has been dividing his time fairly evenly between the hospital and his family home.
So what has Hinckley been doing during those frequent, lengthy furloughs to Virginia? Well, he tries to carry on some version of a normal, productive life, but it’s not easy. Everything he does has to be scheduled in advance with his minders, and the Secret Service keeps tabs on his every move, too. “You expect me to live the rest of my life by an itinerary?” he once lamented. The article suggests that this close monitoring may still be necessary, however. He has been known to take unexpected detours, like an unsanctioned trip to a recording studio, and his past relationships with women are compared here to a “soap opera.” Then there are the stories of Hinckley going to Barnes & Noble and staring at the books about presidential assassinations. Not reading them, just looking at them.
Dean’s article comes to no easy conclusions. One reader might decide that Hinckley’s mental illness has been in remission for years and that he should be allowed to live like a full-fledged member of society now. Another observer might look at the evidence presented and find any number of red flags. Either way, Hinckley’s situation is certainly unique.