Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The John Hinckley Case

"This Mind of Mine"

John Hinckley Jr. in court (AP)
John Hinckley Jr. in
court (AP)

Psychiatrist William Carpenter of the University of Maryland was convinced that John was delusional. A tall, well-groomed man with a silvery beard and shoulder-length hair, he was a strong witness for the defense. He told the court that young John had begun a descent into "process" schizophrenia when he was a lonely, isolated teenager. This type of schizophrenic has a blurred sense of identity. Because a sense of self is unformed, they often try to assume bits and pieces of the identities of characters in books and films. Thus, John compulsively imitated {Taxi Driver's} Travis Bickle, wearing the kind of clothes he wore, buying the same kind of guns, and even drinking peach brandy because that was the sort favored by the character.

There were several major attributes that John possessed that pointed to a diagnosis of schizophrenia, Dr. Carpenter told the court. One was "blunted affect" or "an incapacity to have an ordinary emotional arousal that should be associated with events in life." Another was his "autistic retreat from reality." He also showed severe impairment in lacking friends and being unable to work.

Mark David Chapman (AP)
Mark David Chapman

Dr. Carpenter told the court how, after Foster's refusal to meet with him, John withdrew even more into the world of his fantasies. The court heard how John had flown to New York City trying to find a prostitute similar to Foster's character whom he could "rescue." Then he got the idea of impressing her with violence. Despite his own grief, John was strangely encouraged by the murder of John Lennon by Mark David Chapman. Around the time of that slaying, John wrote, "Inside this mind of mind I commit first-page murder. I think of words that would alter history . . . This mind of mind doesn't mind much of anything unless it comes to mind that I'm out of my mind."

The psychiatrist testified that when John's parents followed Dr. Hopper's orders and threw him out, their son lost "his last important links with the real world." He put down "J. Travis" as his name when he registered in a Denver motel. He obsessively considered various things that would supposedly bring him and Foster together. For awhile, he considered committing a mass murder at Yale where Foster was going to college. Then again, he might hijack a plane. The actress would be the ransom. Thoughts of suicide also recurred.

Then he came across Reagan's itinerary. Hinckley's illness also manifested itself in the way he interpreted events as being somehow done specifically for him. "There had been a series of Jodie Foster films on TV in a short period of time," Dr. Carpenter said, "that he had sensed that they had been put there in some personal way in relationship to him . . . He had that same kind of highly personalized sense of when the president presumably waved and smiled to a crowd of people" and Hinckley believed Reagan was looking directly at him.

Dr. Carpenter said that he thought that John had a "substantial lack of capacity to appreciate the wrongfulness of his conduct on March 30." On a "purely intellectual level," Dr. Carpenter allowed, the accused knew what he was doing was illegal. "Emotionally he could give no weight to that," the doctor said, because he was "dominated by the inner state by the inner drives that he was trying to accomplish in terms of the ending of his own life and in terms of the culminating relationship with Jodie Foster."

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