Former Reagan Press Secretary James Brady’s Death Ruled A Homicide 33 Years After Shooting

A medical examiner in Virginia has ruled that former press secretary James Brady’s recent death is the result of a homicide, stemming from the attempted assassination of President Ronald Reagan in 1981. Brady passed away earlier this week at the age of 73 and the Office of the Medical Examiner for the Northern District of Virginia found that the “grievous injuries he suffered 33 years ago” were the cause. From The Washington Post:

The ruling was made by the medical examiner’s office in Virginia, where Brady, 73, died in an Alexandria retirement community, and was announced Friday by Gwendolyn Crump, the D.C. police department’s chief spokeswoman.

There was no immediate word on whether the shooter, John W. Hinckley Jr., who has been treated at St. Elizabeths psychiatric hospital since his trial, could face new criminal charges. Hinckley, 59, was found not guilty by reason of insanity after he shot Reagan and three others on March 30, 1981.

But the decision to pronounce Brady’s death a homicide 33 years after he was wounded outside the Washington Hilton on Connecticut Avenue NW raises questions about whether prosecutors can, and will, try to get around double jeopardy — the legal concept that protects a person from being tried twice for the same crime — and pursue a murder charge.

The attempted assassination left Brady with partial paralysis and slurred speech, but his the most last effects would be the gun control legislation that would bear his name. From USA Today:

The Brady Handgun Violence and Prevention Act remains perhaps the most consequential piece of firearms legislation since its passage in 1993, analysts said.

In the more than two decades since President Bill Clinton signed the law, which requires background checks on firearms purchases from federally licensed dealers, it has blocked the transfer of about 2 million guns.

“Clearly, (the Brady law) has been the most important factor in keeping guns away from the people who shouldn’t have them,” former Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco Firearms and Explosives director John Magaw said. “It was a historic and strong piece of legislation.”

As quoted above, prosecutors have not stated if they will seek to charge John Hinckley with any criminal charges stemming from the decision. Hinckley has been under varying degrees of psychiatric care since being found not guilty by reason of insanity, seeking more freedoms in recent years. That might change as a result of this ruling. From The Washington Post:

“They are going to have to look at the legal questions,” he said. “They are going to have to look at the factual questions, if they can really show the direct linkage [between the assault and Brady’s death] beyond a reasonable doubt. And then they are going to have to make the decision about whether it is the right thing to do.”

Mark MacDougall, a former federal prosecutor, said “the real hurdle for the government would seem to be proving, beyond a reasonable doubt, that Hinckley actually caused Mr. Brady’s death 33 years after the shooting.”

It is certainly an odd turn of events and one that will be interesting to keep an eye on in the coming weeks. I’m unaware of any other cases where someone has been found to be murdered a few decades after the fact, at least under these types of circumstances.

It’s still not stranger than Hinckley’s reasons for attempting the assassination though. All stemming from a wayward attempt to impress Jodi Foster.

(Via NBC News / The Washington Post / USA Today)