WASHINGTON -- Federal prosecutors will not file charges against John Hinckley Jr. for the death of James Brady, who passed away more 30 years after he was shot in the head during an assassination attempt on U.S. President Ronald Reagan. Hinckley, who shot Reagan and Brady in 1981, remains a patient at a Washington psychiatric hospital.
A medical examiner ruled Brady’s death last year to be a homicide caused by the shot to the head. Brady was serving as Reagan’s press secretary at the time Hinckley attempted to assassinate the president as part of a plan to impress the actress Jodie Foster, with whom he was obsessed.
The medical examiner determined that Brady’s death was a direct result of the gunshot wound. It could have opened the possibility for prosecutors to charge Hinckley again: He successfully pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity when he was put on trial for attempting to kill Reagan. That decision resulted in him being sentenced to St. Elizabeths Hospital in Washington, where he remains today with some privileges to leave and visit family.
The U.S. attorney in Washington cited a mess of legal complications that would be necessary to prosecute Hinckley, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Brady’s family released a statement saying its members understood the decision to not prosecute. “The Brady Family respects the decision of the U.S. Attorney’s office for the District of Columbia not to move forward with prosecution,” Brady’s family said in a statement cited by CNN. “We deeply appreciate the extraordinary outpouring of love and support since the Bear’s passing. We miss him greatly.”
Part of the problem for prosecutors in trying Hinckley would be the initial ruling that he was not guilty of attempting to kill Reagan because he was insane. The circumstances of his insanity have not changed in the interim.
“Mr. Hinckley is haunted by the tragedy that his conduct, more than 30 years ago, created," Barry Levine, Hinckley’s attorney said, according to Reuters.
The case has had a number of policy repercussions. Many states enacted changes to their laws regarding insanity pleas. And the U.S. Congress passed the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, which created background checks for many gun purchasers. Brady and his wife also launched the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, which has been critical in lobbying for restrictions on guns for the past 30 years, including pushing recently for a renewal of the assault-weapon ban.