At 7:54 last night John W. Hinckley Jr. rocked gently on his heels as he stood before judge and jury in the center of Courtroom 19. His hands were clasped tightly before him. His head was shaking slightly from side to side. He glanced to the ceiling for a moment, then down at the floor as the jury's verdict was rendered aloud.
"As to the first count," began Judge Barrington D. Parker in a gruff and staccato voice, "not guilty by reason of insanity."
The courtroom, only seconds earlier so tense and silent, suddenly erupted in a myriad of emotions. There were gasps of astonishment from the gallery, increasing with every not guilty count announced by the judge. A defense attorney could not suppress a wide smile. Hinckley's parents, seated stiffly in the second row, held their hands to their faces and began weeping softly. Their son, clad in a beige suit and brown tie, took a deep and audible sigh, then closed his eyes and tilted his head back as if in prayer.
Within a few minutes the verdict was in: not guilty by reason of insanity on all 13 counts.
The parents embraced. The defendant lowered his head. The courtroom was alive with the electricity of the moment. Anxious whispers and interjections came from everywhere. Judge Parker, irate over the emotional response in his chambers, admonished security workers. "Mr. Marshal," he growled, "if you can't keep order then get someone who can."
Minutes later the judge left the bench, the jury filed out, Hinckley was again escorted to the basement cellblock by seven U.S. marshals, and reporters dashed for the hallways. The stunned prosecutors disappeared through a side exit without comment and the Hinckleys, still hugging and weeping, were left alone in the quiet of the court.
So ended the odyssey of John W. Hinckley Jr., a confused 27-year-old wanderer and would-be artist from suburban Denver whose disturbed quest for fame and recognition was realized last year in front of the Washington Hilton Hotel before millions of American television viewers. As well was ended, for now at least, the public uncovering of utterly private wounds and fears that his parents, a religious Denver oilman and his quiet wife, underwent during this arduous trial.
In court testimony JoAnn Hinckley had called her youngest son "haunted" and "in total despair," a wayward son who was hopelessly depressed in the months before the attack on the president. His father, a pleasant and successful businessman, broke down and cried uncontrollably in court after telling jurors and spectators "I am the cause of John's tragedy . . . I wish to God I could trade places with him right now."
Saturday, the day after the trial ended and the jury began to decide Hinckley's fate, his father and mother waited in a second floor witness room, occasionally stretching their legs in the hallway. "It's so sad really," John Hinckley Sr. said in small talk to a visitor, referring to the plight of homeless people in Washington. "There ought to be more for these people."
He and his wife visited their son in his cell and exited that day a half hour later carrying his dirty shirts in a clear plastic bag and disappearing among the crowd of commuters into the Judiciary Square subway station. From that moment until 7:30 p.m. last night they were not seen at the courthouse.
When it was all finished last night they announced through a court spokesman that they would have no comment. They then visited their son in the basement cell block, which was entirely sealed off by security guards. Moment by moment, however, in the tense courtroom minutes earlier, the wavering expressions on John and JoAnn Hinckley's faces amounted to something indescribably more than phrases or sentences could capture.
7:45: The Hinckleys murmur quietly to themselves as the defendant, seated at the defense table, smiles while listening to his counsel whisper in his ear.
7:48: JoAnn Hinckley peers urgently toward her son who remains staring at the table before him.
7:51: John Hinckley Sr. raises his right elbow to an armrest and wipes the side of his face several times with the side of his hand.
7:54: The moment -- JoAnn Hinckley stiffens, her back against the wooden pew, as her husband remains still and silent.
7:55: A sob and a whisper of relief.
Ninety minutes after the verdict the courthouse was eerily quiet and nearly deserted, save for several cleaning women who stood smoking cigarettes and talking outside the entrance to Courtroom 19.
"Insane. He's insane," one said to another. "Well," the other replied, "at least it's finished."