WASHINGTON — This week's death of former White House press secretary James Brady, who survived a gunshot wound to the head in a 1981 assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan, has been ruled a homicide, District of Columbia police said Friday.
Federal prosecutors said only that they are reviewing the ruling. But a law professor and an attorney for John Hinckley Jr., who was found not guilty by reason of insanity in the shooting, said bringing new charges against the 59-year-old in Brady's death seemed unlikely.
"I think it (the medical examiner's ruling) will mean nothing," long-time Hinckley attorney Barry Levine told The Associated Press. "No prosecutors will bring such a case. The notion that this could be a successful prosecution is far-fetched. There is no legal basis to pursue this."
Brady lived through hours of delicate surgery and further operations over the past 33 years, but never regained normal use of his limbs and was often in a wheelchair.
An autopsy revealed the cause of death to be a gunshot wound and its health consequences, and the manner of death was ruled a homicide, according to a news release Friday from District police spokeswoman Gwendolyn Crump. Nancy Bull, district administrator for the Virginia medical examiner's office, which made the ruling, declined to disclose any more results of the autopsy and referred inquiries to District police.
Besides partial paralysis from brain damage, Brady suffered short-term memory impairment, slurred speech and constant pain. His family said he died Monday at age 73 at his Virginia home from a series of health issues.
William Miller, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office in Washington, said the office "is reviewing the ruling on the death of Mr. Brady and has no further comment at this time." District police and the FBI are also reviewing the case.
Tung Yin, a professor of law at Lewis & Clark Law School in Portland, Oregon, said Friday that it's rare that the act that could be considered the cause of a murder occurred so long ago.
"It seems a little bit unprecedented," Yin said of the Virginia medical examiner's ruling. He said such cases more likely involve a person in a coma who dies some time later.
He said bringing such a case could cause problems for prosecutors, because Hinckley Jr. was found was found not guilty by reason of insanity.