WASHINGTON – The death Monday of President Ronald Reagan’s press secretary James Brady has been ruled a homicide as a result of the gunshot wound he suffered in the assassination attempt on Reagan in 1981, more than three decades ago.
The announcement was made Friday by the medical examiner’s office in Virginia, where Brady, 73, died in an Alexandria retirement community.
There was no immediate word on whether the gunman, John Hinckley Jr., who has been treated at St. Elizabeths psychiatric hospital since his trial, could face new charges. Hinckley, 59, was found not guilty by reason of insanity after he shot Reagan and three others March 30, 1981.
The decision to pronounce Brady’s death a homicide 33 years after he was wounded outside the Washington Hilton in Washington, D.C., raises questions about whether prosecutors can or will get around double jeopardy – the legal concept forbidding that a person be tried twice for the same crime – and pursue a murder charge.
Bill Miller, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office, said Friday that prosecutors are reviewing the medical examiner’s ruling.
Over the past several years, Hinckley has been granted expanded trips away from St. Elizabeths and can now spend as many as 17 days a month with his mother in Williamsburg, Virginia.
His attorney, Barry Levine, said he had not seen the medical examiner’s report but said he felt confident there is nothing for prosecutors to consider.
The prosecution will face insurmountable legal barriers to any prosecution, he said. It ought to be self-evident. Is there any conceivable theory of facts that would differ from the facts that applied to the prosecution in 1982? Is there something new or different other than the fact that Brady died? He was found not guilty of the assault. How could he be found guilty of the more serious charge?
Levine said his client has lived his whole life since that event riddled by guilt, and he has the greatest respect for the Bradys and the greatest amount of remorse for what happened. A sensitive public would know that at the time he committed that act, he was ravaged by mental disease.
The shooting of Brady three decades ago and the revelation of Hinckley’s mental illness – he told authorities he hoped that assassinating Reagan would impress the actress Jodie Foster – had largely faded from the headlines until Brady’s death this week.
Brady and his wife, Sarah, became leading advocates of gun control after the shooting, fighting six years for passage of legislation requiring background checks for handguns bought from federally licensed dealers.
Gail Hoffman, a Brady family spokeswoman, said she could not immediately comment on the coroner’s decision but said Jim had been suffering health issues since the shooting.
Prosecutors may face several hurdles if they file new charges against Hinckley, including possible challenges to the medical examiner’s ruling.