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Patti Reagan: Hinkley Still Capable Of Violence


What do you do with a man who almost assassinated a president, but was found not guilty by reason of insanity? In 1981, John Hinckley, Jr. shot President Ronald Reagan in a twisted attempt to win the attention of a young actress, Jodie Foster. He also wounded two service agents and critically wounded James Brady, the president's press secretary, for life. John Hinckley has spent the intervening years confined to Saint Elizabeths Hospital in Washington, D.C. For the past few years, he's been granted increasing time outside the hospital and now clinicians in charge of his care recommended that he be able to live outside the mental hospital full-time, as what amounts to an outpatient. Patti Davis, the daughter of President Reagan, has a different view. She joins us from our studios in Culver City, Calif.

Patti, thanks very much for being with us.

PATTI REAGAN DAVIS: Thanks for having me.

SIMON: John Hinckley's been undergoing treatment for more than 30 years and people who've worked with him say he isn't the same man who shot President Reagan and doesn't pose the same threat he did in1981. Why are you skeptical?

REAGAN DAVIS: Well, he has had a pattern of being deceptive. Not too long ago, on one of his outings, he told the hospital that he was going to a movie. And the Secret Service agents who were trailing him saw that he was at a library looking at books on my father and also looking at presidential assassins. The diagnosis for him is narcissistic personality disorder, which is incurable. So one of the ideas that's being presented by his doctors and by his attorney, Barry Levine, is that he hasn't done anything violent in the last 30 years. This makes no sense to me whatsoever. You know, that's like saying there's an expiration date on violent tendencies. He's 59. He has time to do something else. He planned that shooting for quite a while before he did it.

SIMON: But he's been in Saint Elizabeths a long time, longer than maybe if he'd shot someone who wasn't beloved around the world and a household name.

REAGAN DAVIS: But he did try to shoot a president. I mean, you can't say well, if he shot the butcher it would be different. He did try to shoot a president. We hold that crime in a different category than we do other attempted murders. In fact, he had other ideas. He stalked Jodie Foster. He stalked President Carter for quite a long time.

SIMON: So your position is, we're not talking about a man who just shot someone who is now gone, but somebody who at one point contemplated shooting a number of famous people.

REAGAN DAVIS: Oh, yeah. I mean, his desire was to be a famous assassin. And I think the main point here is that the verdict of not guilty by reason of insanity was a bad verdict. There's no question that he is insane, but the legal definition of insanity is that you have to be unable to distinguish between right and wrong. And I think he knew perfectly well that it was wrong. And following that verdict, you know, they made a lot of changes in the legal system. There's now another option, of guilty and insane. They also - when Hinckley was on trial, the prosecutors had the burden of proof to prove that the defendant was sane, and now the burden is on the defense to prove insanity.

SIMON: If John Hinckley were to come outside full-time, he - I think we can safely assume - would be pretty carefully monitored by, not just local police, but the Secret Service. And that's not enough guarantee?

REAGAN DAVIS: Well, I mean, he has been followed by the Secret Service for all these years pretty much every time he goes out. But I think that's not a good use of Secret Service agents. And also, you know, here are some other questions - he's going to be staying in his mother's house, who's 89 years old. Is she going to be the one who's making him take his meds every day? Is there a gun in the house? I mean, I've never heard answers to any of these questions. And what happens when she dies? I mean, his brothers and sister have said they can then take over his care, but he could never slip away from them? Like I said, I think he's a very devious man and I think he's proven that.

SIMON: Patti Davis, an author, most recently of the book "The Wit And Wisdom Of Gracie." She joins us from NPR West.

Patti, thanks so much for being with us.

REAGAN DAVIS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.