Correction to This Article
The July 29 obituary of Vincent J. Fuller incorrectly reported that Michael R. Milken was convicted of insider trading in 1989. He pleaded guilty to securities fraud in 1990.

Vincent J. Fuller; Star Attorney Defended Hinckley, Hoffa, Tyson

By Matt Schudel
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, July 29, 2006

Vincent J. Fuller, a Washington trial lawyer who won a dramatic courtroom victory in the presidential shooting case of John Hinckley Jr. and who defended other notables such as Jimmy Hoffa and Mike Tyson, died July 26 at the Casey House hospice in Derwood from lung cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. He was 75 and lived in Bethesda.

A longtime partner in the firm of Williams & Connolly, Mr. Fuller was the second lawyer hired by courtroom legend Edward Bennett Williams. He combined a keen legal mind with tireless research, sharp psychological insights and a commanding courtroom manner to build a record as one of the nation's leading legal advocates.

Mr. Fuller's most memorable trial came in his defense of Hinckley, who shot President Ronald Reagan, press secretary James Brady and two law officers at the Washington Hilton on March 30, 1981. Within two hours of the shooting, Mr. Fuller had been asked to take the case. Over the next year, he shaped an insanity defense that has entered legal annals as one of the finest courtroom performances of modern time.

During the eight-week trial in 1982, Mr. Fuller spent only six minutes discussing the events of the day that Hinckley fired six shots at Reagan. Instead, he focused on his client's fragile mental state, describing his suicide attempts, his trailing of President Jimmy Carter on the 1980 campaign trail and his identification with Mark David Chapman, the killer of John Lennon.

He built his defense partly around Hinckley's obsession with actress Jodie Foster, who played an underage prostitute in the movie "Taxi Driver," in which a drifter stalks a presidential candidate. Over the objections of prosecutors, Mr. Fuller persuaded the judge to show the film, which Hinckley had seen 15 times, to the jury.

One of the most telling moments of the trial came when Mr. Fuller cross-examined the prosecution's witnesses. He revealed that government investigators had visited motels that Hinckley had stayed at in Colorado but had never read the thousands of pages Hinckley had written that illustrated his mental delusions.

In his closing argument, Mr. Fuller said, "In his own mind, the defendant had two compelling reasons to do what he did: to terminate his own existence, and to accomplish his ideal union with Jodie Foster, whether in this world or the next. I submit these are the acts of a totally irrational individual, driven and motivated by his own world, locked in his own mind."

Lon Babby, a Williams & Connolly lawyer who assisted Mr. Fuller on the case, said, "His closing argument was extraordinarily powerful, so powerful that Hinckley became emotional in the courtroom."

The argument is one of 15 featured in "Classics of the Courtroom," a set of transcripts of famous legal cases.

At a time when the validity of the insanity plea was under attack by prosecutors and legislators throughout the country, the jury acquitted Hinckley.

Mr. Fuller's only comment was, "Another day, another dollar."

He never made news outside the courtroom and seldom granted interviews. The only time he publicly discussed the Hinckley case was in an interview six years ago with the D.C. Bar Report.

"What always got me about that case," he said, "was that no one in his family had any idea as to how sick he was. His parents knew that something might be wrong with him, so they sent him to a psychologist, who sent him to a psychiatrist. Hinckley only saw the psychiatrist a few times, but from those interviews the psychiatrist failed to get a clue as to what was going on in his mind. That's alarming."

Vincent John Fuller was born June 21, 1931, in Ossining, N.Y., where his father was a judge and mayor. He graduated from Williams College in Massachusetts, then served two years as a Navy officer -- "Undoubtedly, those were the two most important years of my life," he later said.

He attended Georgetown Law School, where Williams was his criminal law teacher. After Mr. Fuller graduated in 1956, he joined Williams's office. The firm's only other lawyer was Agnes Neill, later to become Williams's wife.

They worked together in 1957 to win an acquittal for Teamsters boss Jimmy Hoffa on charges of bribery and obstruction of justice. The next year, they mounted a successful defense for U.S. Rep. Adam Clayton Powell Jr. (D-N.Y.), who had been accused of income tax evasion.

"Sitting through trials with Ed taught me to understand what facts were, how to develop them, and how to present them," Mr. Fuller said in a 2000 interview with the D.C. Bar Report.

In the next 30 years, Williams & Connolly became one of the premier legal defense firms in the country, and Mr. Fuller was one of its star lawyers. He became the firm's senior partner when Williams died in 1988.

"He had a commanding presence, but he was not the least bit showy or flamboyant," Babby said. "He had learned from Ed Williams. He taught the rest of us how to build a case brick by brick."

In 1985, Mr. Fuller led a successful defense of boxing promoter Don King on income tax evasion charges, but he lost several celebrated cases as well. Michael R. Milken was convicted of insider trading in 1989, despite Mr. Fuller's efforts. Three years later, Mr. Fuller reluctantly handled the Indiana rape trial of heavyweight boxing champion Mike Tyson. After he lost the case, his courtroom opponents had nothing but praise for Mr. Fuller.

"Coming out here and jumping in the mud with people who know how to swim in the mud and getting beat doesn't mean you're not still one of the great lawyers," said J. Gregory Garrison, who prosecuted Tyson. "I'm still in the awe of the guy."

Mr. Fuller, who could be warm and jovial outside the courtroom, always encouraged younger lawyers to spend time with their families. He coached his children's soccer teams and was a member of Our Lady of Mercy Catholic Church in Potomac. He was a student of history in his spare time.

Survivors include his wife of 48 years, Beatrice J. Fuller of Bethesda; five children, Kenwyn Kindfuller of Short Hills, N.J., Anthony Fuller of Winchester, Mass., and Beatrice Fuller, Alison Fuller and Vincent Fuller, all of Bethesda; a sister; and 13 grandchildren.

"Some people say trial lawyers are actors and that a trial is like a play," Mr. Fuller once said. "I think that's misleading. It's really a battle, especially when the stakes are high and the value is liberty."

© 2006 The Washington Post Company