U.S. Attorney’s Office Will Not Pursue Charges Against John W. Hinckley, Jr. For Death Of James BradyLegal Barriers Cited In Decision
WASHINGTON – The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia announced today that it will not pursue criminal charges against John W. Hinckley, Jr., related to the death last summer of former White House Press Secretary James Brady.
The decision was made following a review of applicable law, the history of the case, and the circumstances of Mr. Brady’s death, including recently finalized autopsy findings.
On March 30, 1981, President Ronald Reagan, his Press Secretary, Mr. Brady, Secret Service Agent Timothy McCarthy, and Metropolitan Police Department Officer Thomas Delahanty were shot during an assassination attempt in the driveway of the Washington Hilton Hotel. All four victims immediately survived the shooting. Mr. Brady, however, was gravely wounded by a bullet to the brain, and remained incapacitated by that injury for the rest of his life.
Hinckley was apprehended on the scene. He later was charged with three federal and 10 District of Columbia offenses. In June 1982, following a trial in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, a jury returned a verdict of not guilty by reason of insanity on all charges. Hinckley, 59, has now been committed for over 32 years to St. Elizabeths Hospital.
Mr. Brady died on Aug. 4, 2014. He was 73. On Aug. 8, 2014, the Commonwealth of Virginia Office of the Chief Medical Examiner ruled that Mr. Brady’s death was a homicide and that it was caused by the 1981 gunshot wound. In the wake of that ruling, the U.S. Attorney’s Office initiated a review to determine whether to prosecute Hinckley for the homicide.
According to an autopsy report prepared by the chief medical examiner’s office, and finalized on Dec. 4, 2014, the traumatic brain injury sustained by Mr. Brady created difficulty managing oral secretions and food and led to aspiration pneumonia and other chronic diseases. At the time of his death, Mr. Brady was suffering from aspiration pneumonia. The chief medical examiner thus concluded that Mr. Brady’s death was determined to be “gunshot wound of head and consequences thereof.”
At his 1982 trial, the jury found Hinckley not guilty by reason of insanity of the two charges, assault with intent to kill while armed and assault with a dangerous weapon, related to the shooting of Mr. Brady. Because the jury conclusively made this finding, the government would be precluded now from arguing that Hinckley was sane at the time he shot Mr. Brady.
Additionally, before 1987, the District of Columbia courts abided by the “year and a day rule,” by which a homicide prosecution could only be brought if the victim died within a year and day of the injury causing death. At the time that Hinckley made his assassination attempt, the year-and-a-day rule was still in effect.
In summary, any further prosecution of Hinckley premised on his March 1981 shooting of Mr. Brady would be precluded by the doctrine of collateral estoppel, which would prevent the U.S. Attorney’s Office from arguing, or a court or jury from finding, that Hinckley was sane at the time Mr. Brady was shot. Thus, Hinckley would be entitled to a directed verdict that he was not guilty of the murder of Mr. Brady by reason of insanity. Furthermore, a homicide prosecution would be precluded by the common law "year-and-a-day rule," in effect at the time.15-001