Too Much Justice

Harper's Magazine

I believe that justice was done. Justice is a process, not a particular result.

– Alan M. Dershowitz, Harvard law professor, commenting on the jury verdict finding John W. Hinckley, Jr., not guilty by reason of insanity when he shot President Reagan.

I do not think nobody knows what was within his head that day.

– Woodrow Johnson, parking-lot attendant, one of the Hinckley jurors, commenting on what he learned from the eight-week trial to establish what was in Hinckley’s head that day.

GUISEPPE ZANGARA climbed on a chair at Bayfront Park in Miami on February 15, 1933, and fired five shots at an open car in which President-elect Franklin D. Roosevelt was talking with Chicago mayor Anton Cermak. He missed Roosevelt but hit Cermak, who died on March 6. Zan-gara’s motive, arguably the product of an insane mind, was that "since my stomach hurt, I get even with capitalists by kill the president." He was indicted for murder the day Cermak died, pleaded guilty, and was electrocuted two weeks later, complaining that there was "no one here to take my picture."

Forty-nine years later, on their second day of deliberations, the twelve jurors assigned to decide the guilt or innocence of John Hinckley, who had gunned down President Reagan and three others to win fame and to impress a movie actress, sent the judge a note, asking for a dictionary. They wanted ëto find out for ourselves, was all poetry fiction," the jury foreman, a twenty-two-year-old hotel-banquet worker named Lawrence H. Coffey, explained later to a subcommittee of gaping senators. Thus the jurors hoped to resolve a long, tangential debate between a defense lawyer, who interpreted Hinckley’s practice of scrawling morbid and bizarre images on notebook paper as proof of his insanity, and a prosecution psychiatrist, who dismissed Hinckley’s versified maunderings as "fiction."

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