The John Hinckley Case
"I'll Get You, Foster!"
Chubby John Hinckley Jr. sat in court without much expression on his face. There was a haunted look about the heavy-lidded eyes, a sort of permanent anxiety pinching at the eyebrows but no tears, no hysteria, no obvious remorse or shame.
The defense called Dr. John Hopper to the stand. He was not called as a medical witness as other psychiatrists would be but as a witness to facts. Dr. Hopper testified for seven hours. He seemed understandably embarrassed for he had to tell the world about the failure of his diagnosis and the obvious destructiveness of his prescribed treatment.
Dr. Hopper said on the witness stand that he and others did not demonstrate "as much concern as we all realize now that we should have."
Perhaps the most pitiful witness was Jack Hinckley Sr. Balding and gray, Hinckley was a successful man used to having his own way. Now he had to explain before a world of strangers how he had failed his son and namesake.
He testified that following the doctor's orders and expelling his adult child from his home had been the "greatest mistake" he had ever made. He told how his son had flown back to Denver from New York on March 7. "On the way to the airport, I prayed that we were doing the right thing," the father recalled. "His mother couldn't go with me. She couldn't bring herself to do it. . . [John Jr.] was dazed, wiped out. He could hardly walk from the plane." He told the court how he had remonstrated with his son, then told the young man that he was on his own.
When remembering this, Jack choked up. "I am the cause of John's tragedy," he said as tears blurred his eyes. "We forced him out at a time when he just couldn't cope. I wish to God that I could trade places with him right now." He took out a handkerchief and wept into it as his wife, also crying, left the courtroom.
John stared stoically ahead.
Moving as Jack's testimony was, he was vulnerable on cross-examination. No, he had to answer, he had never heard his son say anything about "voices in his head." He could not testify to the most classic symptoms of schizophrenia.
While John showed little emotion during the testimony of his father, he showed quite a bit of passion when a videotape of Jodie Foster testifying was played.
That tape had previously been made during a special closed session to protect Foster's privacy. However, John had been in court during that session.
The young, blond actress answered questions calmly, occasionally brushing her hair out of her face with her fingers.
"Did there come a time shortly after you started school at Yale," Craig Greg asked, "when you received certain written communications from John W. Hinckley, Jr.?"
"Yes," Foster replied. "That is correct."
"Did you ever see the person who delivered the communications to your mailbox or beneath your door?"
"No, I did not."
"Did any of your roommates to your knowledge ever see the person?" Greg inquired.
"No, I don't think so." She went on to relate that the first letters from John were lovelorn fan mail of a sort she often received. She got a group of them in September 1980 and a "second batch" in October or November of that year. She threw them away. Then the tone changed in the notes delivered by him in early March 1981. "The third batch was a different type of letter," she explained, "so I gave it to the dean of my college." Her concern was warranted. One letter from that group said that, "after tonight John Lennon and I will have a lot in common. It's all for you, Foster." Another said, "Jodie Foster, love, just wait. I will rescue you very soon. Please cooperate. J.W.H."
"Have you ever seen a message like that before?" Greg asked.
"Yes, in the movie Taxi Driver the character Travis Bickle sends the character Iris a rescue letter," Foster replied.
Later, Greg inquired, "Now, with respect to the individual, John. W. Hinckley, looking at him today in the courtroom, do you ever recall seeing him in person before today?"
"Did you ever respond to his letters?"
"No, I did not."
"Did you ever do anything to invite his approaches?" Greg asked.
"How would you describe your relationship with John Hinckley?"
"I don't have any relationship with John Hinckley," the actress said.
When Foster first spoke those words in John's presence, he flung a ballpoint pen at her and shrieked, "I'll get you, Foster!" Marshals rushed him out of the room.
When the tape was played in the courtroom, an agitated John jumped to his feet, his arm up as if he were trying to ward off the words from the screen like one would ward off blows. He raced for the door, the marshals running after him.
Although John Hinckley appeared indifferent to people, like his parents, that he should have been intimate with in real life, he could be aroused to fury and shame by a stranger.