Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The John Hinckley Case

"Dementia Suburbia"

The prosecution contended that, while certainly emotionally disturbed, John was not disturbed enough to escape responsibility for his March 30 actions. The government's doctors made a report on Hinckley's mental state that was never entered into evidence (it was 628 pages long) but upon which the prosecution psychiatrists drew in their testimony.

Park Dietz (CBS)
Park Dietz (CBS)

Dr. Park Dietz, 33, led the government's team of psychiatrists. He and the other government doctors had found that John suffered from three different types of personality disorder: schizoid, narcissistic and mixed. His mixed personality disorder had both borderline and passive-aggressive features. He also suffered "dysthymic disorder" which may be understood as a mood of persistent sadness.

The report itself noted, among many other things that the defendant had "a pattern of unstable interpersonal relationships; an identity disturbance manifested by uncertainty about several issues relating to identity, namely self-image and career choice; and chronic feelings of emptiness or boredom; features of passive-aggressive personality disorder include resistance to parental demands for adequate performance for occupational and social functioning, combined with dawdling . . . inability to sustain consistent work behavior . . . lack of self-confidence. . . "

According to Lincoln Caplan in The Insanity Defense and The Trial of John W. Hinckley, Jr., "some reporters at the trial dubbed these traits 'dementia suburbia.'"

None of his problems, Dr. Dietz firmly told the court, made him legally irresponsible. As Caplan wrote, "seen through Dietz's eyes, Hinckley became a lazy, fame-seeking, manipulative, self-concerned, and privileged loner, who harassed his parents about his inheritance, lied to them and tricked them out of money." He had not held a job for very long, Dr. Dietz indicated, because he simply disliked working.

"The desire not to work can be traced back at least to the time after Mr. Hinckley's high-school graduation," Dr. Dietz claimed. "I think that Mr. Hinckley's interest in the Beatles is the earliest sign that I've been able to discern that he became exceedingly interested in fame, in the notion of success, in fame in a way that would not require a great deal of effort."

Early in his questioning, prosecutor Adelman asked, "whether at the time of the criminal conduct on March 30, 1981, the defendant, as a result of mental disease or defect, lacked substantial capacity to appreciate the wrongfulness of his conduct?"

"On March 30, 1981," Dr. Dietz replied, "Mr. Hinckley, as a result of mental disease or defect, did not lack substantial capacity to appreciate the wrongfulness of his conduct."

The witness went on to speak of the defendant's "long-standing interest in fame and assassination" and "study of the publicity associated with various crimes." John was able to think clearly about such matters as what bullets would do most harm and how he could get within range for a clear shot. John decided to shoot when he did, Dr. Dietz said, because "He viewed the situation as having poor security. . . . The Secret Service and the others in the presidential entourage looked the other way just as he was pulling the gun.

"Finally, his decision to proceed to fire, thinking that others had seen him . . . indicates his awareness that others seeing him was significant because others recognized that what he was doing and about to do were wrong.

"These are examples of the evidence that he appreciated the wrongfulness on March 30."

While on the stand, Dr. Dietz quoted the defendant as telling him of the assassination attempt: "You know, actually, I accomplished everything I was going for there. Actually, I should feel good because I accomplished everything on a grand scale. . . . I did it for her sake. . . . The movie isn't over yet."

While Dr. Dietz was testifying, observers said that John glared at him and during a break, seemed to swear under his breath at the doctor.

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