James Brady Death a Homicide

Former Reagan speechwriter and gun control activist Jim Brady's death has been ruled a homicide. No, there was no foul play involved---at least not recently.

Former Reagan speechwriter and gun control activist Jim Brady’s death has been ruled a homicide. No, there was no foul play involved—at least not recently.

NYT (“Coroner Is Said to Rule James Brady’s Death a Homicide, 33 Years After a Shooting“):

The death this week of James S. Brady, the former White House press secretary, has been ruled a homicide 33 years after he was wounded in an assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan, police department officials here said Friday.

Officials said the ruling was made by the medical examiner in Northern Virginia, where Mr. Brady died Monday at 73. The medical examiner’s office would not comment on the cause and manner of Mr. Brady’s death.

“We did do an autopsy on Mr. Brady, and that autopsy is complete,” a spokeswoman said.

Gail Hoffman, a spokeswoman for the Brady family, said the ruling should really “be no surprise to anybody.”

“Jim had been long suffering severe health consequences since the shooting,” she said, adding that the family had not received official word of the ruling from either the medical examiner’s office or the police.

The ruling could allow prosecutors in Washington, where Reagan and Mr. Brady were shot on March 30, 1981, by John W. Hinckley Jr., to reopen the case and charge Mr. Hinckley with murder. The United States attorney’s office said Friday that it was “reviewing the ruling on the death of Mr. Brady” and had no further comment.

Mr. Hinckley was found not guilty in 1982 by reason of insanity on charges ranging from attempted assassination of the president to possession of an unlicensed pistol. The verdict was met with such outrage that many states and the federal government altered laws to make it harder to use the insanity defense. Mr. Hinckley, now 59, has been a patient at St. Elizabeths Hospital in Washington since the trial.

There is no statute of limitations on murder charges, but any attempt to retry Mr. Hinckley would be a challenge for prosecutors, in part because he was ruled insane, said Hugh Keefe, a Connecticut defense lawyer who taught trial advocacy at Yale University.

“They’re dead in the water,” Mr. Keefe said. “That’s the end of that case, because we have double jeopardy. He was tried; he was found not guilty based on insanity.”

But George J. Terwilliger III, who was the assistant United States attorney in Washington when he wrote the search warrant for Mr. Hinckley’s hotel room, said there might be grounds for a new trial.

“Generally, a new homicide charge would be adjudicated on its merits without reference to a prior case,” said Mr. Terwilliger, who became a deputy attorney general under the elder President George Bush and is now in private practice. “The real challenge here would be to prove causation for the death.”

Whatever one thinks of the insanity defense in general or its application to Hinckley in particular, charging him with murder 33 years after the fact would be a gross miscarriage of justice. That fact that a 73-year-old man died does not change the facts of the case as they stood at Hinckley’s trial.

Aside from the double jeopardy issue, Hinckley was 26 at the time he attempted to assassinate President Reagan and gravely wounded Brady. He’s now been in confinement longer than he lived as a free man. What possible purpose would it serve to retry the case at this juncture?

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Tony W says:

    Thus violating the spirit, if not the letter, of the double jeopardy laws.

    Honestly they should be thanking him for elevating the status of St. Ronnie.