John Hinckley Is Back Home With Mom—but Is He 'Better'?

Lisa Miller's take for Daily Intelligencer shows why that's a tough question to answer
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 22, 2017 4:48 PM CDT
John Hinckley Is Back Home With Mom—but Is He 'Better'?
In this Nov. 18, 2003, file photo, John Hinckley Jr. arrives at US District Court in Washington.   (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File)

The man who tried to kill Ronald Reagan to impress actress Jodie Foster was released from a mental facility in September after nearly 35 years, and now that he's home (under rigid limitations) with his nonagenarian mom in Williamsburg, Va., 61-year-old John Hinckley Jr. is trying to rebuild his life, once telling doctors: "I would like to be known as something other than the would-be assassin." But in her piece for Daily Intelligencer, Lisa Miller dives into the questions that have haunted those examining Hinckley's case for years: namely, did Hinckley truly suffer from extreme mental illness or was he simply a narcissistic criminal? And if mental illness was to blame for the 1981 assassination attempt that wounded Reagan and three others (including press secretary James Brady, who died more than 30 years later from his injuries), is it possible Hinckley is now rehabilitated and able to safely co-exist in society?

Miller examines Hinckley's complicated mental status: A professor once wrote Hinckley "didn't seem like a stereotypical crazy person," and a psychiatrist testifying at his trial called him a "defiant, arrogant, spoiled brat." Yet he was obsessed with Foster; had "grandiose, homicidal, and suicidal" thoughts; and was initially deemed a "schizotypal personality" who was "unpredictably dangerous." Hinckley's apparent mental improvement over the years (he was eventually allowed furloughs home) and empathy toward feral cats at the hospital bolstered his case that he was "better." But Miller offers glimpses of cracks in the veneer (lies about insignificant items, inappropriate interactions with women) that underscore the complexity of figuring out whether a violent person still lurks underneath the recluse, now living what Miller calls "a curious life." More at New York. (What Reagan's daughter said about his release last year.)

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