John W. Hinckley Jr. says he was shocked last week when a jury found him not guilty by reason of insanity in the shooting of President Reagan, and had prepared a four-page speech to read in court the day he thought he would be sentenced.
"I thought for sure I would be convicted because of the pressure the jury would be under to return a guilty verdict," Hinckley said during three telephone interviews from St. Elizabeths Hospital for the mentally ill, where he is now confined.
"I respect them now a lot for just saying, 'To hell with what the public said, we think he's not guilty,' " he said.
He said during the conversations Saturday and Sunday that he believed he was insane when he fired on Reagan and three others, that he takes the blame for the shootings and that he now feels "really sorry" for presidential press secretary James Brady, who was wounded in the head and permanently injured.
If doctors at St. Elizabeths decide he is well, Hinckley said, he wants to leave the hospital. But that decision is up to a federal judge.
The 27-year-old presidential assailant said he had seen news reports about the public outcry over the jury's verdict, but he emphatically denied that he "beat the rap," as one newspaper headline had said.
"I'm not walking out on the street. I'm in a hospital with bars on it . . . . They act like I'm out free . . . . It's not that way at all," Hinckley said.
Noting that his parents and lawyers had declined comment after the verdict, Hinckley added, "Nobody would speak on my behalf. It's always the other half that gets on the TV."
Hinckley, polite and casual during the three conversations, said he was pleased with his quarters at St. Elizabeths in Southeast Washington, which he described as clean and newer than he had expected. As soon as he arrived at the hospital Tuesday, Hinckley said, people began asking for his autograph.
"I like it here so far. Nobody bothers me . . . . They call me Mr. Hinckley," he said.
"The patients here are not hostile at all--if anything they are sympathetic," Hinckley said. He said people have approached him and said "Congratulations on your verdict."
Hinckley's comments marked the first time he has talked with a news reporter since his arrest immediately after the shooting on March 30, 1981. Hinckley did not testify at his eight week trial--which ended with the jury's verdict June 21. He said Sunday "I kind of did want to testify," but, he said, his attorneys felt otherwise.
"I'm too lucid . . . . I can defend myself when I'm talking instead of getting up there and raving like a madman," Hinckley said.
A man identifying himself as Hinckley first called The Washington Post Saturday afternoon and asked to speak to this reporter, who was not in at the time.
The caller suggested that he phone again Saturday evening. The interviews took place during that call and two others, Sunday afternoon and Sunday evening, made at the reporter's request.
The caller was able to answer specific questions about Hinckley's family, his personal life and his confinement at St. Elizabeths that were asked to verify his identity.
Hinckley's chief defense lawyer, Vincent J. Fuller, said yesterday that the telephone calls were made without the knowledge of Hinckley's attorneys.
Wayne Pines, a spokesman for the National Institute of Mental Health, which runs St. Elizabeths, said yesterday that Hinckley's calls to the reporter were not authorized by the hospital and that his use of the phone is now being strictly supervised. Hinckley's telephone calls were supposed to be limited to his family and his lawyers, Pines said.
Each of the telephone calls lasted about 10 to 15 minutes. Hinckley explained that he could make telephone calls three times a day, that he had to wait with other patients for his turn to use the phone (he was number eight in line Sunday evening, he said) and that his time to talk was limited.
Hinckley said he is now waiting to see what the doctors at St. Elizabeths say about his mental condition in a report they must submit to the court by Aug. 2.
Hinckley, who is being evaluated by a team of psychiatrists, psychologists and social workers, said that he spoke with doctors at St. Elizabeths within an hour after his arrival there Tuesday night. "I was so tired I went ahead and talked to them," he said. He now sees the doctors just about every day, he said.
U.S. District Judge Barrington D. Parker has scheduled a hearing Aug. 9 to determine whether Hinckley is entitled to release from the hospital because he is no longer a danger to himself or others.
Hinckley said that if the doctors' report is "very negative," he might just waive his right to a hearing on release. But if the doctors determine he is well and no longer dangerous, Hinckley said, "I'm going to walk out the door whether the public likes it or not."
The final decision is up to Parker, who presided at Hinckley's trial.
Hinckley said he thought the people at St. Elizabeths "are under pressure to keep me in here." He also said he did not think that his defense lawyers wanted him released. And he said he knew that if he is released, "the public is going to go crazy even more than they did last week" after the verdict.
Asked if he thought he was ready to be released from the hospital, Hinckley, hesitated, then said "That's a hard question . . . . "
"I certainly would not be a danger to myself and I don't honestly think I've been a danger to society . . . . I certainly would not be a danger to the president, I'll say that for sure," Hinckley said.
Hinckley went on to say he thought there was "only one person there might be a problem with. . . . I don't know if you've ever heard of her," he said. That person was actress Jodie Foster, he said.
"I don't think there would be a problem," Hinckley said. "I don't think I would go stalking after her . . . . If we were in the same room, there might be some problem."
During Hinckley's trial, there had been extensive testimony from defense psychiatrists who told the jury that Hinckley was obsessed with Foster. He pursued her with telephone calls and love notes in the months before he wounded Reagan, Brady, U.S. Secret Service agent Timothy McCarthy and now retired D.C. police officer Thomas K. Delahanty outside the Washington Hilton Hotel.
There was defense testimony that after Foster rebuffed him, Hinckley, armed with a gun, stalked her at Yale University, where she was a student at the time, and made as many as 10 trips in all to the New Haven campus.
In a letter to Foster left behind in his hotel room on the day he shot the president, Hinckley wrote that he hoped "with this historical deed to gain your respect and love." Defense psychiatrists testified that Hinckley, driven by suicidal impulses, thought that his attack on the president would accomplish a "magical union" with Foster.
When asked this weekend why the shooting happened, Hinckley said "I just wanted at that point to just turn Jodie Foster's life upside down. I mean just turn it just upside down."
"It's just a problem I have with hurting the people I love the most," Hinckley said. He added, "I didn't really care if I died in the shooting."
Hinckley said that on the day of the shooting, "I was at the peak of this madness I had been on for months and months and months. . . . Something just snapped . . . . I didn't care what happened . . . . "
He said he knows he did not appreciate the wrong he was doing because of his reaction when he saw Brady, severely wounded by a gunshot to the brain. Brady is now permanently disabled.
"When I saw Brady on the ground after I shot him . . . it was like it was just a mannequin . . . . I had no emotion about it," Hinckley said, adding, "I feel really sorry for him now."
"He's suffered and his life is not what it should be . . . . I just want to say I'm very sorry about what I did. He was just at the wrong place at the wrong time . . . and I just wish, I just honestly wish I could go back before that shooting . . . . and let him move two inches out of the way," Hinckley said.
During the attack, Hinckley fired six shots from a cheap .22 caliber pistol. The bullet that struck Reagan lodged one inch from his heart; McCarthy was hit in the chest as he lunged to protect Reagan from the attack and the bullet that hit Delahanty lodged close to his spinal cord. All three men have recovered from those wounds.
Hinckley said, "I don't feel sorry for Reagan or McCarthy . . . . I don't know about Delahanty . . . . " Of Reagan, Hinckley said, "I helped his presidency . . . . After I shot him, his polls went up 20 percent." Reagan also has recovered fully from his injuries, Hinckley said.
Hinckley said he knew that Delahanty and McCarthy had brought civil lawsuits against him claiming millions of dollars in damages as a result of the shooting.
There had been testimony at Hinckley's trial that in interviews with psychiatrists he had put the blame for the shooting on, among others, his parents, the Secret Service (for lax security) and on loose gun-control laws. In the telephone interview, Hinckley said otherwise.
"I was saying all that stuff . . . . But I was not putting the blame on them . . . . I take the blame for the shooting, I take the blame for the eight years before the shooting when I was in that nosedive," Hinckley said, referring to psychiatric testimony that he had fallen deeper into depression and despair in the years before the shooting.
"I was so far down in this hole, I had no way of getting out," Hinckley said. Hinckley said the friction between him and his parents has now subsided, and the family is "much closer now" than it had been before the shooting.
Now, at St. Elizabeths, Hinckley has a private room with a tiled floor and cinderblock walls on the fourth floor in Ward 9 at the hospital's John Howard Pavilion, which houses defendants found legally insane or persons awaiting pretrial mental evaluations.
Pines, the NIH spokesman, said Hinckley is allowed to mingle in the day room with the other 21 patients in the ward.
Pines said virtually all the patients in that ward, a maximum-security unit, have private, unlocked rooms and that Hinckley is getting no special privileges or accommodations.
In his room, Hinckley said, is a bed, a nightstand and a closet locker--and a picture of Foster taken from a magazine. The hospital has a gym and a library, which he has not been permitted to visit yet. "You can take as many showers as you want," said Hinckley, who has been accustomed to far more restricted environments since his arrest.
Since being confined at St. Elizabeths, Hinckley said, he has passed time playing pool, Ping-Pong, chess, cards, watching television and talking to doctors. On Saturday night, Hinckley said, he won three candy bars playing Bingo. "I've already eaten them," he said early Sunday afternoon.
Hinckley said he was so convinced that he would be convicted that, "I already had my sentencing speech written out." He said he wrote the speech the night before the jury's verdict "down in my bunker" in the cellblock at the U.S. District Courthouse, where he was held during his trial.
In the speech, which he first titled "Conviction," Hinckley recalled, he was prepared to say that he had received a fair trial, "despite the prosecution's cheap shots all the time." He also would have talked about Jodie Foster.
"I've still got that speech . . . . It looks stupid now," Hinckley said Saturday.
Sunday night, speaking again from a phone in the day room at his ward in St. Elizabeths, Hinckley said he wanted to read aloud the last two paragraphs of that speech, which he said he now calls "An Act of Love":
"From the start all I wanted was for someone to love me. I desperately wanted to be loved but I never could give appropriate love in return. I seem to have a need to hurt those people I love the most. This is true in relation to my family and Jodie Foster. I love them so much that I have this compulsion to destroy them.
"On March 30, 1981, I was asking to be loved. I was asking my family to take me back and I was asking Jodie Foster to hold me in her heart. My assassination attempt was an act of love. I'm sorry love has to be so painful."