Patty Hearst Trial (1976)
by Douglas O. Linder (2007)
security camera of the Sunset District branch of Hibernia
Bank in San Francisco showed Patricia Hearst holding an assault rifle
as members of the Symbionese Liberation Army carried out the midday
robbery. Was the rich heiress, kidnapped two months earlier,
fear of her life? Was she brainwashed? Or did she
participate in the
robbery as a loyal soldier in "the revolution"? That was the
California jury had to decide in the 1976 trial of Patty Hearst.
evening of February 4, 1974, three armed members of a group calling
itself the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA) burst into the Berkeley,
California apartment shared by Patty Hearst and her fiance, Steven
Weed. Hearst, the daughter of Randolph Hearst (managing editor of
the San Francisco Examiner)
and the granddaughter of the legendary William Randolph Hearst,
screamed when the men assaulting Weed with a wine bottle. The SLA
members carried Hearst, clothed in a nightgown, out of her apartment
and forced her into the trunk of a white car. Hearst's abductors
fired a round of bullets as they sped away, followed by a second
released a communique in which it called the kidnapping the "serving of
an arrest warrant on Patricia Campbell Hearst." The communique
warned that any attempt to rescue Hearst would result in the prisoner
being "executed." The statement ended with the capital letters:
"DEATH TO THE FASCIST INSECT THAT PREYS UPON THE LIFE OF THE PEOPLE."
later, the SLA sent a audiotape to a local radio station, KPFA, tape
recording from "General Field Marshall Cinque" demanding that Randolph
Hearst fund a multi-million dollar food giveaway "as a good faith
gesture." "Cinque" was actually Donald DeFreeze, who--following
his escape from a California prison in March 1973--organized a
group of Berkeley area activists that hoped to spur a revolution.
The SLA established as its goals closing prisons, ending
monogamy, and eliminating "all other institutions that have made and
sustained capitalism." The tape included the frightened voice of Patty
Hearst. She is heard telling her parents: "Mom, Dad, I'm
okay. I'm with a combat unit with automatic weapons. And
these people aren't just a bunch of nuts....I want to get out of here
but the only way I'm going to do it is if we do it their way. And
I just hope that you'll do what they say, Dad, and do it
quickly..." The package received by the radio station also
included a photograph showing Hearst, brandishing a carbine and wearing
a beret, in front of the SLA's seven-headed cobra symbol.
response to the SLA demands, Randolph Hearst created the People in Need
program and donated about $2 million. The food giveaway program
was fraught with problems. In some distribution locations,
rioting and fraud hampered efforts, On February 22 at a
distribution site in West Oakland, rioting led to dozens of injuries
and arrests. In a March audiotape released by the SLA, Patty
criticized her father's food distribution efforts: "So far it sounds
like you and your advisers managed to turn it into a real disaster."
heard the most shocking audiotape from the SLA in April, fifty-nine
days after Patty's kidnapping. On the tape, Hearst says: "I have
been given the choice of being released...or joining the forces of the
Symbionese Liberation Army and fighting for my freedom and the freedom
of all oppressed people. I have chosen to stay and fight."
Hearst further announced that she had accepted the name "Tania," after
a "comrade who fought alongside Che in Bolivia."
Hibernia Bank robbery occurred shortly afterward, on April 15.
The robbery, which netted the SLA $10,692, resulted in two bystanders
being shot, one fatally. Security camera tapes of the robbery
played on television and closely analyzed by authorities.
Different conclusions were drawn from the tapes as to whether Hearst
seemed to be a completely willing participant. She can be seen
announcing, "I am Tania" and ordering customers to the floor. "We
are not fooling around," she warned. In an audiotape
released by the SLA after the Hibernia robbery, Hearst says: "Greetings
to the people, this is Tania. Our actions of April 15 forced the
Corporate State to help finance the revolution. As for being
brainwashed, the idea is ridiculous beyond belief. I am a soldier
in the People's Army."
later, Hearst is at another crime scene, this time at Mel's Sporting
Goods Store in Englewood, California. Store employees spotted SLA
member William Harris, along with his wife Emily, attempting to
shoplift an ammunition case, and a scuffle ensued. From a van
parked across the street from Mel's, shots were fired in the direction
of the store. The shooter was identified as Patty Hearst.
"Gotterdaemmerung" came the next day. One hundred Los Angeles
police officers mounted an assault on a home at 1466 54th Street, a
place determined to be an SLA hideout. The event was captured on
live television. Police ordered the home's occupants to "Come on
out. Hands up." No one answered the call--except with
automatic fire. The heavily armed SLA members succeeded in
pinning down the police for a time. In the end, however, teargas
grenades started a fire that consumed the house. Six SLA
members--a majority of the group's membership, but not included Emily
and John Harris or Patty Hearst--died in the assault. Hearst
responded by criticizing "the fascist pig media" for "painting a
typically distorted picture" of her "beautiful sisters and brothers"
killed in the assault. She said that "out of the ashes" of the
fire she "was reborn"--and knew what she had to do next.
of Patty Hearst came over a year later, after authorities following the
trail of SLA member Kathleen Soliah (who had not long before
organized a commemoration of the gun battle in a Berkeley park) were
led to Emily and William Harris and Hearst. Hearst was arrested
September 18, 1975 at her apartment in the outer Mission District of
San Francisco. Patty Hearst's mother, Catherine, expressed
confidence that her daughter would not face imprisonment: "I don't
believe Patty's legal problems are that serious. After all, she's
primarily a kidnap victim. She never went off and did anything of
her own free will."
of Patricia Hearst began on February 4, 1976 (two years to the day
after the kidnapping) in the courtroom of U. S.
District Judge Oliver J. Carter. The kidnap victim, who had spent
fifty-nine days blindfolded and living in a closet where she was
subjected to verbal and sexual abuse, was charged with armed robbery of
the Hibernia Bank. In the days following her arrest three months
earlier, Hearst had maintained her allegiance to the SLA. By the
time of the trial, however, she had changed her tune. She claimed
she had been brainwashed and feared that had she tried to return to her
parents, she would have been killed. Carolyn Anspacher, who
covered the trial for the San
Francisco Chronicle, offered this assessment of Patty Hearst:
“[T]he metamorphosis back to Patricia, if
indeed there was one, took time
platoons of lawyers, as assembled in desperation by the frantic
Hearsts... [T]he young woman usually
referred to as ‘the defendant’ who will be
into court to stand trial is a seeming replica of the original Patricia
the soft-voiced Patty who was wrenched from her familiar surroundings
violence. . . . Her hair, dyed a brassy red when she was arrested, has
toned to a gentle chestnut and coiffed softly around her face. Her tight and revealing sweater and jeans
have been replaced by tasteful slacks and jackets.
She no longer lifts manacled wrists in black
power salute and her eyes are, for the most part, downcast, as if she
sharing a secret with herself.”
defense of Hearst was headed by F. Lee Bailey and his associate Albert
Johnson. Bailey chose to adopt the strategy of attempting to
prove that Hearst had been "brainwashed" and suffered from what has
been variously called the "Stockholm Syndrome" or the "POW Survivor
Syndrome." (Although, somewhat inconsistently, Bailey suggested
at various times in the trial that his client did only what she had to
do to stay alive.) Stockholm Syndrome sufferers are captives who,
after a period of being utterly dependent upon the captors, become
sympathetic to their captors' cause. Under Bailey's theory,
Hearst was never a free agent or voluntary member of the SLA, up to and
including the time of her arrest.
defense strategy of claiming brainwashing and duress, critics pointed
out, had several problems. First, the actions and statements of
Hearst after the Hibernia robbery strongly suggested that she was
acting freely and it was not necessary in the case, critics noted, to
establish that Hearst remained brainwashed throughout the entire time
up to her arrest--rather only that she was not a free agent at the time
of the robbery. Second, brainwashing was not recognized as a defense to
bank robbery under federal law, and Judge Carter's instructions to
jurors, telling them that Hearst had to have been acting out of an
"immediate fear for her life" made acquittal on this theory
difficult. Third, the strategy seemed to fly in the face of
facts. "Why," a juror might ask, "if Hearst was not a free agent,
was she carrying in her purse, on the day of her arrest, a stone Olmec
monkey face on a chain given to her by SLA member Cujo (William
Wolfe)?" "Why did she have revolutionary books, such as Explosives and Homemade Bombs, on
her apartment bookshelf?" "Why did she not escape despite her numerous
opportunities to do so?"
Carter's ruling undercut the defense strategy by allowing the
prosecution to introduce evidence of statements and events after the
robbery to prove her state of mind at the time of the robbery.
Thus the jury listened to Patty tell Americans on an audiotape, "'The
idea of brainwashing is ridiculous." On cross-examination, Hearst
faced numerous questions from prosecutors about her actions after the
bank robbery, causing her to plead the Fifth Amendment forty-two
times. She also had to listen to embarrassing expert testimony
about her vulnerability and endure a humiliating cross-examination
about a wide range of topics, including her sex life. The
strategy, one commentator observed, "deprived Patty of the right to
feel blameworthy and get on with her life."
did Bailey opt for the brainwashing theory? One reason is because
that was the theory that Hearst's parents wanted him to use--and they
were paying for his defense. Randolph and Catherine Hearst seemed
unwilling to accept that their daughter would voluntarily choose to
become an SLA member. Another reason might have been Bailey's
fear that arguing in this case that Hearst's voluntary conversion came
after the Hibernia robbery would expose her to a future prosecution for
her shooting outside Mel's Sporting Goods store a month after the bank
robbery. Bailey also had a psychiatrist ready to testify that
Patty "was not responsible for her actions" and felt confident of his
own ability to sway jurors on the brainwashing theory. Finally,
it is possible that Bailey's holding book rights to the Patty Hearst
story influenced his decision; brainwashing, it might be assumed, would
make for a good story line and boost his recently sagging criminal
choosing to go forward with the brainwashing theory, defense attorneys
rejected the offer of prosecutors to allow Patty to plead guilty to
practically anything in return for a lenient sentence, possibly just
probation as a first-time offender. Bailey, perhaps, thought he
statements for the two sides addressed the reality that the crime for
which Hearst was being tried was captured on videotape. U. S.
Attorney Robert R. Browning quoted from the words of Hearst's April 17
communique: "My gun was loaded, and at no time did any of my comrades
intentionally point their guns at me." Bailey, on the other hand,
suggested that the robbery was staged by the SLA to make Hearst appear
to be an "outlaw." Bailey told jurors, the SLA "positioned her
directly in front of the cameras" like "a prized pig." Bailey
also argued, "Perhaps for the first time in the history of bank
robbery, a robber was directed [by other robbers] to identify herself
in the midst of the act." Later, when the prosecution played the
security videotape, Patty Hearst gazed disbelievingly at the screen,
then began weeping.
played the central role in Hearst's courtroom drama. Jurors
listened to over 200 hours of expert psychiatric testimony.
Before the psychiatric testimony began, according to Shana Alexander in
Anyone's Daughter: The Times
and Trials of Patty Hearst, most jurors thought Hearst was
probably innocent--or, at least, not guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
psychiatrist had a bigger effect on the jury's thinking that government
psychiatrist Joel Fort. He told jurors to be skeptical of defense
psychiatrists, who treat everybody as a
patient, not a defendant. He suggested that they have a
strong interest in helping Hearst avoid hard time in prison.
Moreover, he questioned the ability of defense psychiatrists to draw
conclusions about Hearst's state of mind at a time fifteen months
before they first interviewed her. According to Fort, Patty
Hearst was a prime candidate for radicalism even before her
kidnapping. Fort described the young Hearst as basically "an
amoral person" who thought rules did not apply to her. He noted
that she lied to nuns at school about her mother having cancer in order
to get out of an exam, engaged in sexual activity at an early age, and
experimented with drugs such as LSD. Fort offered his "velcro
theory" for aimless, lost souls such at Hearst: such persons, he said,
float around in moral space and then find stuck to them the first
random ideology they bump into. It is not at all surprising, Fort
concluded, that Hearst would find the SLA appealing. Many of its
members, including Cinque, came from educated, upper-class background
similar to Patty's--and all chose to become members without being
brainwashed. Hearst, if the jurors believed Fort, signed on with
the sociopaths as a form of self-hatred.
decision to go with the brainwashing theory meant that Hearst would
have to take the stand to describe in some detail how the brainwashing
took place. Unfortunately for her case, the jurors didn't believe
a lot of what they heard from her. For example, after Hearst
described being "raped" by SLA member William Wolfe (or "Cujo")
jurors "I hated him," the prosecution produced the love trinket, the
so-called Olmec monkey, found
in her purse after arrest, that Wolfe had given her. Asked to
explain why she would keep a gift in her purse from a rapist that she
hated, Hearst answered lamely that she "like art" and took classes in
art history. If the love trinket wasn't enough to explain, there
was also Patty's own words in her June 7 communique, in which she
called Cujo "the gentlest, most beautiful man I've ever known."
In his cross-examination of Hearst, Browning repeatedly turned to the
defendant's own writings, in the form of the "Tania Interview"
(personal reflections written during Patty's so-called "missing year"
with the SLA), to undercut her testimony that she was something other
than an enthusiastic radical.
verdict came after twelve hours of deliberation. Many
jurors ended their session in tears. On March
20, 1976, a jury of seven men and five women pronounced Hearst guilty
of armed robbery and use of a firearm to commit a felony. In the
end, jurors thought Hearst lied to try to shoehorn her actions into an
untenable theory. One juror explained that Bailey forced him to
either buy or reject "the whole package" and that Hearst's firing shots
at Mel's "didn't jive" with her supposedly passive role in the
SLA. Hearst was not the weak-willed puppet that the defense
suggested she was. A female juror concluded Hearst was "lying,
through and through," and that no woman would keep a love token from
someone who raped and abused her. Other jurors described Hearst
as "remote" and "baffling." We didn't know "whether we were
looking at a live girl or a robot," one male juror said. Jurors
seemed to blame the defendant for hiding behind Bailey's "mind-control"
theory and not coming clean about her true feelings. Hearst's
repeated taking of "the Fifth" also didn't sit well with jurors.
One explained, "It was a real shocker. A witness can't just tell
you what he wants to tell you and not tell you what he doesn't want to."
sentenced to seven years in prison. President
Jimmy Carter commuted Hearst's sentence to time served in February
1979. Hearst gained her release from prison after just twenty-two
months. On January 20, 2001, the last full day of his presidency,
Bill Clinton granted Patricia Campbell Hearst a full pardon.
George Will, reflecting on the Hearst story, saw it as a demonstration
of "the fragility of the individual's sense of self." Will
observed that Arthur Koestler's classic political novel Darkness at Noon featured a
sinister figure named Gletkin who was a master mind bender. Will
worried: "The disturbing thought is not that the SLA had some
cunning Gletkin who destroyed Tania's sense of her former self.
The disturbing thought is that no Gletkin was needed."