Former White House Press Secretary James Brady died this week at the age of 73, but a medical examiner declared his death a homicide stemming from a gunshot wound he received 33 years ago in a failed assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan.
The announcement was made on Friday, with Washington DC’s Metropolitan Police Department noting that the medical examiner evaluating Brady’s death ultimately linked it to the gunshot wound he suffered in 1981.
“An autopsy was conducted and revealed the cause of death to be a gunshot wound and consequences thereof, and the manner of death was ruled a homicide,” police in Washington said in a statement to The Wire.
The department noted that Brady’s death increases the number of criminal homicides for the year to 71, and that both the US Attorney’s Office and the FBI are looking into the medical examiner’s ruling.
Brady was shot in the head by John Hinckley Jr. during an attempt to assassinate President Reagan outside the Washington Hilton Hotel. Reagan himself was struck in the chest with a bullet, and two others were also hit, though no one was killed.
Now 59 years old and in the custody of St. Elizabeths psychiatric hospital, Hinckley was originally found not guilty on 13 charges by reason of insanity, but he could now face murder charges as a result of the medical examiner’s ruling.
"There is no statute of limitations on murder in either the federal or state system," NBC News justice correspondent Pete Williams said. However, he added that they "are a long way from knowing what the federal authorities are going to do with this, or whether they are going to do anything with it."
Brady survived the shooting but was left with the left side of his body paralyzed, forcing him to be in a wheelchair for the remainder of his life. In the wake of the assassination attempt, Brady and his wife, Sarah, fought fiercely for gun control. In 1993, their advocacy helped pass the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, which mandated background checks and five-day waiting periods before an individual could buy a firearm.
A spokesperson for the family declined to comment on the medical examiner’s ruling but told the Washington Post that “Jim had been suffering health issues since the shooting.”
"This isn't a surprise to anybody or to her, given that his health was impacted and he suffered such consequences over the years," the spokesperson told NBC. "If [homicide] is the case it is in the prosecutors' hands, and it is up to them."