The upcoming release of John Hinckley Jr., the man who shot President Reagan, will create a first in American history: There will soon be three would-be presidential assassins free.
Timothy P. McCarthy, a historian of American politics at the Harvard Kennedy School, said the coincidence of Hinckley, Sara Jane Moore and Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme all being free from custody comes at a tense time in American politics. Their presence is a reminder of an earlier, turbulent era.
“The political rhetoric in this historic presidential election is reaching a heated, at times violent, fever pitch,” he said. But McCarthy also noted, “Sometimes the impulse to punish is mediated by the impulse to forgive or to heal.”
Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme
Background: Fromme was born in Santa Monica on Oct. 22,1948. After graduating from Redondo Union High School, she met Charles Manson and became a member of the “Manson Family.” She was never charged in the Tate-LaBianca murders, but became a fixture during Manson’s trial in Los Angeles, frequently commenting to the media and expressing her devotion to Manson.
Assassination attempt: Fromme pointed a loaded gun on President Ford in Sacramento on Sept. 5, 1975, while Ford was en route to a meeting with Gov. Jerry Brown at the Capitol. Ford was walking through a crowd when he saw Fromme move her hand toward him. Secret Service agents pounced on Fromme and hauled Ford away to safety.
Trial: Ford became the first president to testify in a criminal trial, saying he saw the gun but had “no recollection of hearing the woman say anything or of hearing the handgun click.” Fromme was convicted of attempted assassination of a president and sentenced to life in prison.
Release: Fromme became eligible for parole in 1985, as it was allowed under the law at the time, according to Felicia Ponce, spokeswoman for the FederalBureau of Prisons, who spoke to CNN. Fromme had the option of waiving her rights to a hearing, which she did that year. She briefly escaped in 1987. She came up for parole again in 2008 and was released a year later.
Now: Fromme, 68, has kept a low profile. After her release she moved to Marcy, N.Y., to live with her boyfriend, according to Inside Edition.
Quote: At her sentencing, the judge said he believed she would have killed Ford if she could have. Fromme shouted, “You fool! I’m trying to save your life!”
Ford family: In a 2004 interview on “Larry King Live,” Betty Ford recounted how the assassination attempt affected her: “After the first attempt on his life by Squeaky Fromme, every time he left the White House, I used to go on the balcony and pray that somehow he would come back and avoid anything like that again. But, of course, there was another one which made me even more apprehensive.”
Sara Jane Moore
Background: Born Feb. 15, 1930, in Charleston, W.Va., Moore was an aspiring actress and nurse who married five times, became estranged from her family and abandoned three of her children. She had been treated for mental illness.
Assassination attempt: Just 17 days after Fromme’s attempt on Ford’s life, Moore waited with a loaded revolver outside the St. Francis Hotel in San Francisco, where Ford was staying. When Ford appeared, she raised her arm, ready to fire.
Oliver Sipple, a former Marine standing next to her, saw the weapon and deflected her arm just as the gun went off. The bullet sailed over the president’s head. He was uninjured.
Trial: Moore’s lawyers were preparing a defense related to her mental illness, but she pleaded guilty against their advice. She was given a life sentence with a possibility of parole.
Release: Moore was paroled in 2007 after 32 years in a low-security federal prison for women in Dublin, Calif. Her parole was grandfathered by federal laws that have since been tightened.
Now: In 2015, Moore was interviewed by CNN remotely, her location listed only as North Carolina. She is now 86 years old.
Quote: “Am I sorry I tried?” Moore said at her sentencing. “Yes and no. Yes, because it accomplished little except to throw away the rest of my life, although I realize there are those who think that’s the one good thing resulting from this. And no, I’m not sorry I tried, because at the time it seemed a correct expression of my anger…”
Ford family: In a 2004 interview, Ford described his two would-be assassins: “But I guess these people who do attempt assassinations are unusual. Squeaky Fromme certainly was off her mind. Sara Jane Moore, the same way.”
John Hinckley Jr.
Background: Hinckley, born May 29, 1955, in Ardmore, Okla., suffered from depression and obsessive tendencies his entire life. He dropped out of college in 1976 and moved to California, where he developed an obsession with Jodie Foster. He later said that he thought killing a president would gain her attention and impress her.
Assassination attempt: Hinckley stalked President Carter before focusing on Reagan after he took office in January 1981. Hinckley shot Reagan, along with three other people, two months later, March 30, as the president left the Washington Hilton Hotel after delivering a speech. All those wounded survived, though White House Press Secretary Jim Brady suffered permanent brain damage and went on to become a fervent gun control advocate.
Trial: In 1982, a jury found Hinckley not guilty by reason of insanity. The verdict caused Congress to tighten laws on using insanity as a defense.
Release: Hinckley was never imprisoned but has spent the last 34 years in a mental institution. On Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Paul L. Friedman signed an order for Hinckley’s release from St. Elizabeth’s Hospital on Aug. 5. He will live with his 89-year-old mother, Jo Ann Hinckley, in Williamsburg, Va.
Now: Hinckley, 61, must notify the Secret Service and therapists of his whereabouts at all times, receive psychotherapy and refrain from contacting Reagan’s descendants or Foster, among others. He is barred from giving interviews.
Quote: In a 1989 court hearing concerning his request to have access to speak to the news media, Hinckley said, “I don’t believe I am this seriously ill person.”
Reagan family: Patti Davis, Reagan’s daughter, spoke out against Hinckley’s release on her website. In a blog post after news of his impending release, she wrote, “I’m not surprised by this latest development, but my heart is sickened. If John Hinckley is haunted by anything, I think it’s that he didn’t succeed in his mission to assassinate the president.”