Return to Transcripts main page
CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL
Crimes of the Century: Reagan Assassination Attempt
Aired August 4, 2013 - 20:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: We don't know precisely what happened.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, my god. He has been shot.
THOMAS J. BAKER, ASSISTANT DIRECTOR, FBI (RET.): The president of the United States has been shot.
HANK BROWN, ABC NEWS CAMERAMAN: I can see it through the view finder even now.
NARRATOR: An inch from his heart.
DR. JOSEPH GIORDANO, GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY MEDICAL CENTER: He was minutes away from not making it.
NARRATOR: Who is the shooter?
STEPHEN COLO, UNITED STATES SECRET SERVICE (RET.): And then he says, well, if you know about that, you know about everything.
NARRATOR: A bizarre motive.
WILLIAM T. CARPENTER, M.D., MARYLAND PSYCHIATRIC RESEARCH CENTER: And he felt the relationship was real.
PROF. RICHARD BONNIE, UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA: He was a really severely disturbed person.
NARRATOR: And his crime changed history. "The Shooting of Ronald Reagan," next.
On January 20th, 1981 Ronald Wilson Reagan was sworn in as the 40th president of the United States.
RONALD REAGAN, 40TH PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I, Ronald Reagan, do solemnly swear.
NARRATOR: As with most new administrations Reagan's first couple of months are rocky.
DEL QUENTIN WILBERT, AUTHOR, RAWHIDE DOWN: This is the 70th day of Reagan's presidency. Things were not going particularly well. He had a very low approval rating and the lowest of any president that early in his first term.
It's a Monday, and Reagan has one big event that day, is to deliver a speech ALF-CIO. It's 2:00. Kind of gray day in Washington. And Ronald Reagan's motorcade has just arrived for his speech at the Washington Hilton Hotel which is behind us. And this is the special entrance back here, the VIP entrance, that Reagan walked into at 2:00 p.m. when he arrived.
REAGAN: The government's first duty is to protect the people, not run their lives.
NARRATOR: The event is covered by all the major networks. For ABC News photographer Hank Brown it's a routine job.
BROWN: We're the full crew that travel with the president wherever he goes. We wanted to get the picture of the president walking out of the hotel and getting in the limo.
WILBERT: Fifteen feet from that door was a rope line.
BAKER: All that the cameramen, everybody is laughing.
WILBERT: It was unsecured. No ID checks. People thought it was a press line. It wasn't. Anyone could be behind that line.
BAKER: You see Hinckley's face about three rows back. Totally passive. No reaction at all.
BROWN: I got my camera up, aimed it at the door. The president was coming out. I could see it through the viewfinder, even now.
WILBERT: Reagan is walking towards his waiting limousine. Secret Service agents are surrounding him as he goes towards the car.
Just 15 feet from him was John W. Hinckley, Jr. He pulls out his .22 caliber revolver and unleashes six shots in 1.7 seconds -- 1.7 seconds is the time it takes you to say 1.7 seconds. It's that fast.
The first shot it's Jim Brady, the press secretary has been hit.
NARRATOR: Brady is seen here between Reagan and Secret Service agent Jerry Parr.
WILBERT: The second shot it's Tom Delahanty, a D.C. police officer, in the back. Third shot goes high, hits that building across the street right there. The fourth shot hits Timothy McCarthy, Secret Service agent, square in the chest. He is not wearing a bullet proof vest. He falls to the ground.
The fifth shot hits the armored bullet proof window of the car. As Reagan and Parr flash behind it diving in. The sixth shot crafts across the driver. No one knows where that sixth shot went until later they realized it slapped off the side of the car, slipped through a gap between the door and the door frame.
REAGAN: I thought it was firecrackers. And the next thing I knew one of the Secret Service agents behind me just seized me here by the waist and plunged me head first into the limo.
NARRATOR: The agent is 50-year-old Jerry Parr, head of Reagan's Secret Service detail.
JERRY PARR, SECRET SERVICE AGENT: As we go in, I go in on top of him. I'm sure I hit my radio or my gun or something hit him in the back.
REAGAN: And I said, Jerry, get off. I think you have broken a rib.
WILBERT: Jerry Parr is looking out the window, and he is pulling out this way. Jerry Parr looked out the window, he says three men down. A bullet mark in the left window. He knows there's been an assassination attempt and that limousine is alone.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have shots fired, shots fired. Shots fired. There are some injuries.
WILBERT: Parr checks Reagan out really quickly. You know, he seems OK. Reagan thinks he is OK.
PARR: I ran my hands up under his coat. I felt around his belt with my hands. No blood. Ran my hands up under his arm. No blood.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Rawhide is OK. Follow up, Rawhide is OK.
PARR: Rawhide is Reagan's Secret Service code name. And on this day there's no better code name for a president than rawhide for Ronald Reagan.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you want to go to the hospital or back to the White House?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're going -- we're going to ground. Back to the White House. Back to the White House.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Rawhide is OK.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: We interrupt. There's been a late development. Shots reported fired outside the hotel where President Reagan spoke a short while ago. Here's Bernard Shaw in our Washington bureau.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK. My apology. Details are very sketchy at this moment. We don't know precisely what happened. We don't know the sequence. First of all, the president is safe.
NARRATOR: Safe, yes. But not OK.
WILBERT: Reagan starts complaining of pain in his back, his chest and his side. Not feeling so good.
REAGAN: And just then I coughed. And I had a handful of bright red frothy blood.
PARR: And he said I think I've cut the inside of my mouth. And I said, let me look, and it was pretty profuse.
WILBERT: Parr knows this is big trouble. So he has a decision to make. Do I head back to the White House, the safest place known in the universe, or does he avert to George Washington Hospital, the nearest trauma center where there's not an ounce of security?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We want to go to the emergency room, George Washington?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's a Roger.
WILBERT: Ronald Reagan's life literally on this day hung in the balance of a split second and a mere inch. And I'm not exaggerating.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Go to George Washington fast.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hustle, hustle, hustle. Let's hustle.
NARRATOR: Outside the hotel the scene was chaotic. In the bedlam the shooter is tackled.
BROWN: There was pushing, there was shoving.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Get him out.
BROWN: You hear the agent screamed, get him out of here. Get him out of here. And at the same time an ambulance was arriving.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, come on, back it up please.
BROWN: So I immediately went back to filming the scene. I thought, I had to preserve history.
It brought tears to my eyes. I still see Brady lying here. I still think about Delahanty. I see his face. I still see McCarthy being lifted up off the ground and being thrown back by the bullet.
NARRATOR: Within minutes of the shooting President Reagan arrives at George Washington Hospital. He insists on walking in.
REAGAN: The nurse met me, and I told her I had no trouble breathing.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The president was at the point where we in Minnesota say he was ready to crash.
REAGAN: The next thing I knew that's when my knees began to turn to rubber, and I wound up a gurney.
GIORDANO: If he had gone to the White House, they would have dragged him out of the car, looked him over, found out he was in big trouble, put him back in the car, and drove him to (INAUDIBLE), yes, it would have taken 10, 15 maybe more minutes. He didn't have that time.
WILBERT: And there's a nurse there trying to get the president's blood pressure and she can't detect it. She can't feel his blood pressure. He is not doing so good, and she's going, oh, my god, he is going to die. I'm going to lose the president of the United States.
REAGAN: I didn't know I was shot.
GIORDANO: I really do believe that he was minutes away from not making it.
REAGAN: The shot that got me careened off the side of the limousine and hit me while I was diving into the car. And it hit me back here under the arm, and then hit a rib and that's what caused an extreme pain and then it tumbled and turned instead an inch wise and went tumbling down to within an inch of my heart.
NARRATOR: First Lady Nancy Reagan is in the Solarium at the White House when she gets the news.
NANCY REAGAN, FIRST LADY: George (INAUDIBLE), who was head of my detail, he said there's been a shooting, but don't worry. The president is all right. And George kept saying, you don't have to go. He is all right. He hasn't been hurt. I said, George, I'm going. We better get the car because I'm going.
WILBERT: She comes into the E.R., and the first thing Ronald Reagan says to her is, honey, I forgot to duck.
NARRATOR: As he's prepped for surgery, Reagan stays in character and jokes with his doctors.
GIORDANO: He looked at me, he says, I hope you're all Republicans. And I'm a notorious liberal Democrat, and I said today, Mr. President, we're all Republicans.
NARRATOR: The surgical team is led by Dr. Benjamin Aaron.
WILBERT: As the main head surgeon, digging through Reagan's chest trying to find this bullet fragment, worried it slipped into an artery and shoot into the president's brain and kill him. Dr. David Adelburg reached his hand into the president's chest, gently cupped the president's beating heart in his hand and held it aside.
A 31-year-old surgical intern literally held the beating life of the president of the United States in his hands.
NARRATOR: While Reagan is in surgery, the suspect, John W. Hinckley, Jr. of Evergreen, Colorado, is being questioned.
BAKER: He admitted who he was. He made no attempt to hide who he was.
NARRATOR: The FBI and Secret Service have two questions. Why did he do it? And did he act alone?
BAKER: He said to them at the time you'll understand why I did this when you see my room.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: According to sources, John Hinckley, Jr., the accused gunman, may have tried to kill Mr. Reagan because of an infatuation with a young actress.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: We can report that shots were fired as President Reagan left the Washington Hilton Hotel following that address we carried live here on CNN. The suspect was rushed to District of Police headquarters.
NARRATOR: John W. Hinckley, Jr., age 25, is a complete mystery to his captors.
COLO: When I walked in the room John Hinckley was just sitting quietly on a seat, showed no emotion.
NARRATOR: Secret Service agent Steven Colo is among the first to see Hinckley.
COLO: He told me that his wrist hurt because of the handcuffs that were placed on him and that his throat hurt. Someone hurt his throat when they arrested him. Well, certainly in my mind it was not typical that he was complaining about himself after he had just shot a number of people.
NARRATOR: As investigators begin to question Hinckley, White House press secretary Jim Brady's wife, Sarah Brady, is at home with their 2-year-old son.
SARAH BRADY, WIFE OF JAMES BRADY: We were sitting in our rec room watching television when they announced it.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: The president did not appear to be hurt according to United Press International.
BRADY: I thought to myself, oh, that's great. Never dreaming that Jim would even have been with him for some reason. But the phone rang immediately. It was a friend of mine, and she had heard that Jim had been shot.
NARRATOR: The White House immediately sends a car to take Sarah to the hospital.
BRADY: For some reason I just thought he's been away. You know, it just never dawned on me that he was badly hurt or killed. I just kept thinking he was shot in the arm.
GIORDANO: It was very obvious that he was seriously injured with gunshot wound to the head. But he was alive.
WILBERT: He probably should not have made it, but he got exceedingly great medical care from a doctor named Art Kobrine.
NARRATOR: With her husband on his way to surgery, hospital workers usher Mrs. Brady into a secure waiting room.
BRADY: Mrs. Reagan came in, and she came over to me, and we hugged each other, and she said, I am so scared, and I said I am, too.
NARRATOR: While surgeons worked to save the shooting victims, suspect John Hinckley is transferred to the FBI's Washington field office for questioning. Two senior FBI agents are assigned to conduct the interview. As a courtesy, they invite Secret Service agent Steve Colo to sit in.
COLO: I was there in a liaison position at that time. Keep in mind, the Secret Service could not be part of the investigation because technically the Secret Service is at fault any time one of our protectees has been shot or injured.
NARRATOR: Before the questioning begins, the agents inventory Hinckley's personal possessions.
COLO: When they opened the wallet, there was a picture. The belief was that the picture of this attractive woman came with the wallet because she was somewhat recognizable as, like, a young starlet, but none of us knew her name. There was a piece of paper that was stuck in the bill fold section that had a telephone number on it. One of the FBI agents said, oh, that's a Connecticut telephone number. It meant nothing to me at the time.
NARRATOR: When the interview begins, Hinckley doesn't react well to the questioning by his FBI interrogators so they ask Agent Colo to step in. Within minutes Hinckley opens up.
COLO: He told me about the different doctors that he had been to. He talked about dropping out of school. He talked about his relationship with his parents and how annoyed they were with him. So I asked him, how could he explain his issues? And he says, I have no direction in life.
I decided to take a long shot, so I said to him I saw the piece of paper with the telephone number. The number that goes to Connecticut. When I said that to him, he all of a sudden became animated. Here was a guy who was almost stoic in his answers and all of a sudden now he is twitching, and he says, well, if you know about that, you know about everything.
And I knew I hit on a really important fact, and I had no idea what he was talking about. So I said to him, I know, but I have to hear it in your words. He said, well, that telephone number goes to Yale University. It goes to Jodie Foster's room, and, bingo, that was the picture in the wallet.
NARRATOR: Back at the hospital Dr. Kobrine is meticulously removing bullet fragments and damaged tissue from Jim Brady's brain. The surgery is slow, delicate, and dangerous.
WILBERT: At one point they're hearing on the radio that Jim Brady died. Someone rushes in to tell Art Kobrine, hey, they're reporting Jim Brady is dead. And Art Kobrine turns to the guy, and says, what do they think I'm operating on, a corpse? That's what he said.
BRADY: And they kept it totally away from us because we had no television or anything like that, which is really good.
NARRATOR: But a lot of people did hear, including friends who are watching TV with the Brady's 2-year-old son, Scott.
BRADY: When they announced his death, they showed his picture. Scott said, oh, there's my daddy and went up and kissed the screen. But of course, he didn't -- he didn't know that --
NARRATOR: After five hours Dr. Kobrine emerges from the operating room.
BRADY: The minute I saw his face, I knew it was successful. I mean, it was a miracle.
NARRATOR: Against all odds, Jim Brady survives, though he'll be permanently disabled and wheelchair-bound for the rest of his life.
The other victims also undergo surgery and survived. Secret Service agent Tim McCarthy was hit in the chest, and D.C. policeman Tom Delahanty was shot in the back.
That evening FBI agents searched John Hinckley's Washington, D.C. hotel room.
BAKER: Hinckley had laid out -- this was the bizarre thing. Really bizarre. He had laid out there from the morning's newspaper and the president's schedule. He had beside that a statement really in the form of a letter to the actress Jodie Foster.
NARRATOR: In his letter Hinckley writes, "I am doing all this for your sake, Jodie. I am asking you to please look into your heart and at least give me the chance with this historical deed to gain your respect and love. I love you forever, John Hinckley."
COLO: It was when we read the letter from the hotel room that we finally put the pieces together.
BAKER: It looked to all of us gut feeling this is a lone gunman, and there was the motive, to impress this actress.
COLO: We can understand political motives, but here we have a motive of love.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: President Reagan had just delivered a fairly well received speech at the Hilton Washington hotel. Then shots.
NARRATOR: Within 24 hours of the assassination attempt the FBI and Secret Service are digging deeply into John Hinckley, Jr.'s background.
TOM BUSH, SPECIAL AGENT, FBI (RET.): Leads were going out all over the country. We literally took his life apart to track him off every receipt he ever had. Any dollar that was spent that we could track, we wanted to know where he'd been and what he had done as far back as we could go.
NARRATOR: What they found was a long trail of despair, deceit, and delusion. Hinckley had a seemingly normal childhood growing up in an affluent suburb of Dallas, Texas. He played sports as a boy and did well in school, but as he grew older, Hinckley began to withdraw. His parents chalked it up to shyness. UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: From the time Hinckley graduated from this high school, Highland Park in (INAUDIBLE) in 1973 until his arrest there was also a personality change. He had become quieter, more introverted, somewhat of a recluse.
NARRATOR: In 1973 Hinckley moved to Evergreen, Colorado, with his parents. They hoped he would go to college. He did for a while, attending Texas Tech off and on for a few years, but never graduating. Mostly he spent time in his room alone writing gloomy poems and playing his guitar.
WILBERT: He dreamed of being a songwriter, a musician. And so for a summer he spent some amount of time out in L.A. pretending he was going to sell his music to companies and all this stuff.
CARPENTER: Certainly had a grandiose view of himself, an exaggerated view of his accomplishments as a composer and as a musician.
WILBERT: He sat and watched TV in his apartment. He didn't go anywhere.
CARPENTER: He seemed like, in a sense, a lost soul. You know he goes out to Hollywood expecting something and just ends up in a room by himself and going to see this movie over and over. The "Taxi Driver" movie. "Taxi Driver" movie.
NARRATOR: Investigators soon realized that the movie "Taxi Driver" is a central influence on Hinckley's life. So much that Hinckley even adopts the persona of the lead character played by Robert De Niro. That of a disturbed Vietnam vet named Travis Bickel. Hinckley begins dressing in army fatigues, like Bickel. He begins drinking peach brandy, like Bickel. And he becomes obsessed with guns and assassination, like Bickel.
WILBERT: And he saw that movie 15 times, "Taxi Driver." a very violent movie. And he becomes obsessed with Jodie Foster in this movie.
NARRATOR: Jodie Foster plays a 12-year-old prostitute named Iris.
CARPENTER: He felt the relationship with Jodie Foster was real, not something that is based on her role in the movie.
WILBERT: He was just one of these warped guys.
NARRATOR: While the FBI investigates Hinckley, Ronald Reagan is recovering at George Washington Hospital, which has been transformed into the seat of government.
BRADY: The White House is always wherever the president is. Everything had moved there. Decisions were being made and the staff was over there. It was so strange.
GEORGE H. W. BUSH, VICE PRESIDENT: It's turmoil around here, I thought intensive care, you know, everybody would be whispering, but it's like Grand Central Station. BRADY: Everything was very surreal for a couple of days there. I mean, it just -- it was like living in a movie.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Has the president at all asked or has he been told about the condition of his press secretary?
DR. DENNIS O'LEARY, SPOKESMAN, GWU HOSPITAL: He is not aware of the number -- about the other people who were shot and injured at this time.
NARRATOR: It isn't until Reagan asks his staff if anyone else was shot that he is told about Officer Delahanty, Agent McCarthy, and press secretary Jim Brady.
BRADY: He called me down and said he was so sorry, and I told him, you know, that Jim was doing what he loved to do the most, and I kind of tried to reassure him. But he was very emotional about it, of course.
NARRATOR: Reagan also wants to see the Secret Service agent who took a bullet for him. Tim McCarthy.
WILBERT: Reagan looks at him, and he can -- maybe he senses something in McCarthy. I don't know. Reagan (INAUDIBLE), so, Tim, McCarthy, Reagan, Brady, and Delahanty. What did this guy have against the Irish?
BAKER: He handled it very well, and as he said to us in his interview, he didn't know what had happened. He still managed to make jokes about it. Bring this personality forward to make everybody in the country feel better about themselves.
NARRATOR: Everybody but John Hinckley, Jr.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: And in this hour John Hinckley, Jr. pleads not guilty to charges he tried to kill President Reagan and both his lawyer and the government agree he is competent to stand trial.
NARRATOR: From the moment he was arrested, the issue of sanity became paramount to the legal teams assigned to prosecute and defend John Hinckley.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Facing a judge for the first time Hinckley stood while the clerk read the 13-count indictment. Among the spectators were Hinckley's parents. They watched intently as the clerk asked their son, how do you plead? In a clear, loud voice, the 26-year-old Hinckley answered not guilty.
WILBERT: You know, Hinckley is an interesting person, but not interesting at the same time.
CARPENTER: There didn't seem to be much there. You could not form a rapport with him. He seemed to have little expression of emotion. NARRATOR: Dr. Will Carpenter, a research psychiatrist at the University of Maryland, was hired to give an expert opinion in Hinckley's defense.
CARPENTER: I believe that I spent about 44 hours evaluating him. Most of that would have been in interviews with him. He was self- centered, but he wasn't narcissistic. It was more like kind of a loner who doesn't have much else going on, and then went to grandiose ideas, including delusional ideas.
WILBERT: He made up a whole girlfriend for his parents. For a year. She didn't exist.
CARPENTER: She seemed awfully real to him. At times. But it's very much to manipulate his parents so that he could be off and doing what it was that he intended to do without their interfering.
NARRATOR: In the summer of 1980 Hinckley read a story about Jodie Foster. The 18-year-old actress was taking a sabbatical from Hollywood to attend Yale University. So Hinckley told his parents that he was going back to college, but at Yale, not Texas Tech.
WILBERT: And so he makes up a whole elaborate ruse to his parents about how he is going to go to Yale for a writing class that doesn't exist, and the whole time he has been stalking Foster. He finds out where she lives. Slipping notes under her door. He is on the phone with her, and he taped these calls.
JODIE FOSTER, ACTRESS: Who is this? Oh, no. Who is this?
JOHN W. HINCKLEY, PRESIDENT RONALD REAGAN'S SHOOTER: Is this Jodie?
FOSTER: Who is this?
HINCKLEY: It's John.
FOSTER: John who? Oh, no, not you again. Look, I really can't talk to you, OK? Do me a really big favor. You understand why I can't, you know, carry on these conversations with people I don't know. You understand it's dangerous and not fair and it's rude. All right?
HINCKLEY: Well, I'm not dangerous.
FOSTER: Well, I understand that. It's the same thing. OK?
HINCKLEY: So you just don't ever want me to call again?
FOSTER: No, it's been really nice talking to you, though.
BAKER: We started to yell at the recorder. Hang up, hang up, because this is what we'd tell our wife or our daughter. You know, you hang up right away.
WILBERT: Just really sad and pathetic calls. He was reaching out to this woman he idolized and wanted to be part of. And so it gets in his mind, you know, if I get the president of the United States, she'll love me and she'll want me. She'll know who I am. And so he starts talking to Jimmy Carter.
NARRATOR: It was just a month before Reagan was elected. He and President Carter were campaigning hard for every vote.
WILBERT: In October 1980 John Hinckley gets within arm's reach of Jimmy Carter at an event in Dayton, Ohio.
NARRATOR: One week later Hinckley is in Nashville, Tennessee, still stalking Carter. When Hinckley leaves, airport police find several guns in his luggage.
COLO: He was arrested. Never fingerprinted and photographed for carrying a weapon and the information was never sent to the Secret Service.
BUSH: They took the weapons. He paid a fine. And that was the end of that.
NARRATOR: Within days Hinckley is in Dallas where his sister lives shopping for more guns at Rocky's Pawn Shop. He buys two revolvers for $98, including the one he will use to shoot President Reagan.
BAKER: He purchased it legally at the time. Caliber .22. It's a very light weight, snub-nosed handgun.
BUSH: He'd actually gone to firing ranges. You know, he had been trained, or given himself training.
WILBERT: John Hinckley took a lot of target practice. He took a lot of target practice. He never shot at moving targets. When Jerry Parr is moving the president towards that open limousine door.
NARRATOR: On December 8th, 1980 John Hinckley's fragile world begins to crack when he hears shocking news from New York City.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: The news ripped through the air in shock waves. John Lennon shot and killed in the Dakota Apartment Building where he lived. The suspect is identified as Mark David Chapman.
NARRATOR: Hinckley idolized Lennon. That New Year's Eve he locks himself in his room at his parents' house, drinks peach brandy, plays his guitar, and wallows in his own misery. Sometime during the night Hinckley writes in his diary, "John Lennon is dead. Forget it. It's just going to be insanity. I still think about Jodie all the time. Anything I might do in 1981 would be solely for Jodie Foster's sake. I want to tell the world that I love her."
NARRATOR: Valentine's Day 1918. John Hinckley, the man who will soon shoot Ronald Reagan, has been in New Haven for two days leaving more notes for Jodie Foster. On one postcard he writes, "One day you and I will occupy the White House. Please do your best to remain a virgin. You are a virgin, aren't you?"
But this time Hinckley is not just leaving her notes. He is contemplating a violent act.
CARPENTER: He had guns with him when he was in New Haven stalking Jodie Foster. And he's just unsure what he was doing with it.
NARRATOR: Spurned once more by Foster and feeling suicidal Hinckley goes to New York City still carrying the guns he bought in Dallas.
CARPENTER: We talked about the guns and the whole history with guns, and he described, you know, having them with him when he was in New York, and he considered killing himself then. Kind of standing on the place where Chapman had been outside the Dakota.
NARRATOR: But Hinckley does not act on any of his thoughts. Instead he goes back to Evergreen, Colorado, where his parents live.
WILBERT: Came back. And there was a lot of friction between him and his father and his mother about what he's going to do with his life, get a job or not. They recognized he had some mental problems, so they sent him to see a psychiatrist.
NARRATOR: Hinckley first saw the psychiatrist the previous October.
WILBERT: In one of the first sessions he tells the psychiatrist, hey, I'm really interested in guns, and Jodie Foster. I'm obsessed with these two things. And after that the psychiatrist never asked him another question about those two things.
NARRATOR: At one point the psychiatrist, Dr. John Hopper, had told Hinckley's parents that their son was simply immature, that he needed to grow up, get a job, and live on his own. The last of 15 sessions takes place four and a half weeks before the shooting.
DANIEL SCHORR, CNN COMMENTATOR: The mother of the troubled young man might have kept him home. The brother and the sister would have had him institutionalized, but the family followed the psychiatrist's advice as troubled families will do and to put it mildly, it didn't work out.
COLO: His parents actually gave him an ultimatum. They were supplying the funding for his travels, and they were getting tired of it, and they told him emphatically in these words that, you know, he had to clean up his act and get a job, and they were cutting off his funds at the end of March.
CARPENTER: He was not capable of taking that as a challenge and then straightening his life out. He was more capable of drifting off as a loner into his own fantasy world.
COLO: And so at the end of March he makes the decision that he has to do something.
NARRATOR: Six days before the shooting Hinckley flies to Los Angeles and then boards a bus to Washington, D.C. From there he'll go to New Haven and commit his act of love for Jodie Foster. He even writes her another note telling her to wait for him.
WILBERT: His plan was to shoot Foster, shoot himself, or kill both of them in this orgy of violence. That was his plan.
NARRATOR: On his way to Yale Hinckley stops off in D.C. He checks into the Park Central Hotel, sleeps, gets up, and goes for a fast food breakfast.
COLO: It was just by chance that that morning he got up at 10:00, read the paper, and saw the president was going to the Hilton to talk to the AFL-CIO.
WILBERT: Saw the president's schedule on page A-4 of the "Washington Star" newspaper. Say, now I'm going to see how close I can get to the president with my little gun. He wrote Foster a note. Takes a cab up to the Washington Hilton Hotel, gets there, gets behind the rope line. Sees Reagan approaching. Pulls out his .22 caliber revolver.
BONNIE: He thought something magical was going to happen that didn't have anything to do with Ronald Reagan. You know, it had to do with some union that he was going have with Jodie Foster.
NARRATOR: By the spring of 1982, a year after the presidential assassination attempt, the four victims are all healing. Jim Brady's recovery is painfully slow, but positive. Though losing most use of the left side of his body, he retains his cognitive thinking and great sense of humor.
Agent Tim McCarthy makes a full recovery and continues his career with the Secret Service. D.C. police officer Tom Delahanty suffered a crippling wound that eventually forced his retirement.
President Reagan surprised his doctors and the nation healing quickly for a man his age.
As for John W. Hinckley, Jr., his life story was a tabloid soap opera played out for a worldwide audience.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: About his alleged assailant, Mr. Reagan said, I hope and pray he can find an answer to his problem, said the president. He seems to be a very disturbed young man.
NARRATOR: Even Jim Brady was compassionate.
BRADY: He said, well, he didn't hold any ill will toward him, but then again, he hoped he wouldn't win the Irish sweepstakes.
NARRATOR: Hinckley's motive seemed simply surreal.
CARPENTER: None of this was political. It was a way to try to force the recognition that should be granted to him.
NARRATOR: In a surprising move, the judge in the case ordered Jodie Foster to give a deposition for the trial. It took place March 30th, 1982. The first anniversary of the shooting. By court order Hinckley was allowed in the room.
When Foster denied a relationship, Hinckley became enraged. He had to be restrained and removed from the room. FOSTER: I received a great deal of unsolicited mail that I seldom read it. I've never met, spoken to or in any way associated with one John W. Hinckley. Last fall I received several pieces of unsolicited correspondence signed John W. Hinckley or JWH, and I threw them all away.
NARRATOR: John Hinckley's trial began on May 4th, 1982. His defense, innocent by reason of insanity.
BONNIE: Under federal law at the time, once the defendant raised the defense of insanity, the prosecution had to disprove the insanity claim beyond a reasonable doubt.
NARRATOR: Professional Richard Bonnie is an expert in law and psychiatry. He wrote what is considered a definitive textbook on the Hinckley trial.
BONNIE: As far as the prosecution was concerned that the dominant diagnosis was that this was a person with a narcissistic personality disorder that was infatuated with Jodie Foster, and basically what was really, really wanted was to be famous. But that he was in touch with reality.
As far as the defense was concerned, that he basically had a form of schizophrenia, a schizophrenic process disorder that he was out of touch with reality, was descending into psychosis, that he was delusional.
COLO: My interpretation of insanity goes back to the old McNorton rule. And it's very simply, can the individual differentiate right from wrong? And clearly during my interview with John Hinckley, he clearly understood the difference between right and wrong.
NARRATOR: The prosecution argued that Hinckley had carefully planned the attack.
BUSH: The fact that he was able to travel, the fact that he did look at the schedule, put that type of effort into planning this event, that's premeditated activity.
NARRATOR: The defense countered with Dr. Will Carpenter's testimony on schizophrenia.
CARPENTER: In general with illnesses like schizophrenia, people can do most things in life in an ordinary way. So they are not conspicuously crazy. They don't go into McDonald's and order watermelons. Hinckley did not have a lot of disorganization pathology. His was much more the reality distortion, false beliefs, and his belief in those and letting those guide his life.
BUSH: It came down to our psychiatrist versus his psychiatrist.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: John W. Hinckley, Jr. has been found not guilty by reason of insanity on all 13 counts. COLO: I was surprised at the verdict.
BONNIE: I think almost everyone was surprised by this verdict.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: I would characterize it as astonishment.
CARPENTER: I think the reason it went in that direction is that the prosecution basically denied mental illness.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: This was a case in which there was much evidence in Hinckley's own hand, in his writings, in his poetry, in his essays to suggest that he was in fact degenerating into a psychotic killer by the time March of 1981 rolled around.
NARRATOR: Expecting a guilty verdict, Hinckley had prepared a statement. "From the start, all I wanted was for someone to love me. On March 30th, 1981, I was asking my family to take me back, and I was asking Jodie Foster to hold me in her heart. My assassination attempt was an act of love."
After the verdict, Hinckley was committed indefinitely to St. Elizabeth's Hospital in Washington, D.C.
COLO: It wasn't until years later that I was assigned to the Reagan detail, and we had an opportunity, when I was in the limo with the president, to talk about John Hinckley. His desire was that John Hinckley got the necessary help that he needed. And then he said, but I have to tell you something. It hurt like hell.
WILBERT: And Reagan had a very good way of putting things behind him. And he was very good at kind of separating himself from that moment. And I don't think it bothered him. Nancy Reagan, it would bother her.
COLO: She was concerned about every time that they would make mention that John Hinckley might be released, she would come to me and say Steve, I just need to make sure that that won't happen.
NARRATOR: In 2003, the year before President Reagan died, a federal judge ruled that Hinckley was no longer a danger to himself or others, and should be allowed limited visits to his mother's home in Virginia.
To this day, the Secret Service watches Hinckley, tracking his whereabouts, the people he meets, even the books he checks out of the library.
WILBERT: Is he dangerous to other people still? Will he do this again?
CARPENTER: I never had any sense that there was any deep remorse, and I don't think that he would be very capable.
COLO: He had mental illness at that time and there are still issues. Clearly, I think that he is where he should be.
NARRATOR: In the years after the assassination attempt, President Reagan's approval rating skyrocketed. REAGAN: Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.
NARRATOR: He became one of the most popular presidents in American history.
During Reagan's second term, Jim and Sarah Brady became vocal supporters of gun control legislation. Their efforts paid off in 1993 with the signing of the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act. It required federal background checks on commercial sales of handguns to individuals.
Unfortunately, the Brady Bill came too late for John W. Hinckley. Several months after the shooting, his father asked him what might have stopped him. Hinckley replied, maybe if I had to wait a while to buy a gun, had to fill out forms or get a permit first, or sign in with the police or anything complicated, I probably wouldn't have done it.