Patty Hearst

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Patty Hearst
File:1975 Patty Hearst.jpg
Hearst's mugshot in 1975
Born Patricia Campbell Hearst
(1954-02-20) February 20, 1954 (age 66)
San Francisco, California, US
Nationality United States
Other names Patty Hearst, Patricia Hearst Shaw, Tania
Occupation Author, actress
Known for Being kidnapped and indoctrinated by the Symbionese Liberation Army
Spouse(s) Bernard Shaw (1979–2013; his death)
Children Lydia Hearst-Shaw
Gillian Hearst-Shaw
Parent(s) Randolph Apperson Hearst
Catherine Wood Campbell
Relatives William Randolph Hearst (grandfather)
George Hearst (great-grandfather)
Anne Hearst (sister)
Amanda Hearst (niece)

Patricia Campbell Hearst (born February 20, 1954), now known as Patricia Hearst-Shaw, is the granddaughter of American publishing magnate William Randolph Hearst; she became nationally known for events following her kidnapping. In 1974, while she was a 19-year-old student living in Berkeley, California, Hearst was abducted by a left-wing terrorist group known as the Symbionese Liberation Army. After being isolated and threatened with death, she became supportive of their cause, making propaganda announcements for them and taking part in illegal activities.

Hearst was found 19 months after her kidnapping, by which time she was a fugitive wanted for serious crimes. She was held in custody, despite speculation that her family's resources would prevent her spending time in jail. At her trial, the prosecution made Hearst's character and sexual morality an issue, suggesting that she had not been raped while being held prisoner by the SLA. She was found guilty of bank robbery. Her conviction and long prison sentence were widely seen as unjust, but the procedural correctness of her trial was upheld by the courts. Hearst's sentence was commuted by President Jimmy Carter, and she was pardoned by President Bill Clinton.



Hearst's grandfather, William Randolph Hearst, created the largest newspaper, magazine, newsreel and movie business in the world. Her great-grandmother was philanthropist Phoebe Hearst. The family was associated with immense political influence and anti-Communism going back to before World War II.[1]

Early life

Hearst was born in San Francisco, California, the third of five daughters of Randolph Apperson Hearst and Catherine Wood Campbell. She grew up primarily in Hillsborough. She attended Crystal Springs School for Girls in Hillsborough and the Santa Catalina School in Monterey. Despite her wealthy grandfather, Patty Hearst's father was only one of a number of heirs, and did not have control of the Hearst interests. Her parents did not consider it necessary to take any measures for her personal security. At the time of her abduction she was a sophomore at a university studying the history of art, and living with her fiancé, Steven Weed.[2]


On February 4, 1974, the 19-year-old Hearst was kidnapped from her Berkeley, California apartment. She was beaten and lost consciousness during the abduction. Shots were fired from a machine gun during the incident. Responsibility was claimed by an urban guerrilla group called the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA).[3]


The SLA was formed through contacts made by a leftist-oriented study group, coordinated by a University of California, Berkeley professor. Its purpose was the tutelage of black inmates, and over time the ethos became increasingly radicalized. Eventually, black convicts were viewed as heroic political prisoners, victimised by a racist American society.[4] On March 5, 1973, African American Donald DeFreeze escaped from prison. Radical penal activists and future SLA members, Russell Little and William Wolfe, took DeFreeze to Patricia Soltysik's house.[5] The SLA was led by DeFreeze, who after a prison acquaintance named Wheeler left, was the only African American. By the time the group became active most of the members of the tiny group were women, some of whom have, like Soltysik and her roommate Nancy Ling Perry, been described as in lesbian relationships. The members included William and Emily Harris and Angela Atwood. Defreeze was suspected by many on the radical left of being a government provocateur, but his race and prison time gave him unquestioned authority in the SLA. He also had sexual dominion over women in the group.[6][7] They acquired resources by burglarizing the homes of leftists in the Bay Area. The first proposed operation, assassinating the head of the state penitentiaries, was cancelled because of possible repercussions for inmates; instead Marcus Foster, a black educator regarded by the SLA as a fascist who had brought police onto school campuses, was targeted and killed. DeFreeze's projections of the military strength of the then dozen-strong SLA grouplet were hyperbolic, and he gave himself a concomitantly grandiose title of 'field marshal'. Soltysik is believed to have created much of the SLA ideological material, which stated the organization was opposed to "racism, sexism, agism, fascism, individualism, competitiveness, possessiveness and all other institutions that have made or sustained capitalism".[5]


Hearst's kidnapping was partly opportunistic, as she lived close to the SLA hideout. According to testimony, the main intention was to leverage the Hearst family's political influence to free two SLA members arrested for the killing of Oakland's first black superintendent, Marcus Foster. Faced with the failure to free the imprisoned men, the SLA demanded that the captive's family distribute $70 worth of food to every needy Californian – an operation that would cost an estimated $400 million. In response Hearst's father, taking out a loan, arranged the immediate donation of $2 million worth of food to the poor of the Bay Area. The distribution descended into chaos, and the SLA refused to release Hearst.[5] Hearst's kidnapping made the SLA, a small organization with few resources, front-page national news.[3]

Hearst's account

According to Hearst's later testimony, she was in a closet blindfolded with her hands tied for a week, during this time DeFreeze repeatedly threatened her with death.[8] She was let out for meals and, blindfolded, began to join in the political discussions; she was given a flashlight and SLA political tracts to learn. After she had been confined in the closet for weeks, "DeFreeze told me that the war council had decided or was thinking about killing me or me staying with them, and that I better start thinking about that as a possibility." Hearst said "I accommodated my thoughts to coincide with theirs". Asked for her decision, Hearst said she wanted to stay and fight with the SLA, and the blindfold was removed, allowing her to see her captors for the first time. After this she was given lessons on her duties, especially weapons drills, every day. Angela Atwood told Hearst that the others thought she should know what sexual freedom was like in the unit; she was then raped by William Wolfe, and later by DeFreeze.[8][9][10][11]


On April 3, 1974, two months after she was abducted, Hearst announced on an audiotape that she had joined the SLA and assumed the name "Tania"[12] (inspired by the nom de guerre of Haydée Tamara Bunke Bider, Che Guevara's comrade).[13][14]

As avowed SLA member

Robs bank

Patty Hearst yelling commands at bank customers[15]

On April 15, 1974, she was photographed wielding an M1 carbine while robbing the Sunset District branch of the Hibernia Bank at 1450 Noriega Street in San Francisco.[3] Hearst announced herself under her pseudonym of Tania.[16][17][18] Two men who entered the bank while the robbery was occurring were shot and wounded.[16][17][18] According to later testimony at her trial, a witness thought Hearst had been several paces behind the others when running to the getaway car.[16][17][18]

Described as common criminal

Within days, United States Attorney General William B. Saxbe said Hearst was a "common criminal" and "not a reluctant participant" in the bank robbery. James L. Browning, Jr. said that all participation in the robbery may have been voluntary, clarifying an earlier comment of his in which he said that Hearst may have been coerced into taking part. The FBI agent heading the investigation had said SLA members were photographed pointing guns at Hearst during the robbery.[19] A grand jury indicted her for the robbery in June 1974.[20][21]

Uses machine-gun to rescue 'comrade'

In May 1974, a surplus store manager observed a minor spur-of-the-moment theft by William Harris who had been shopping with Emily Harris, while Hearst waited across the road in a van. Accompanied by a female employee, the manager followed him out and confronted him. During the ensuing scuffle one of Harris's wrists was manacled, and his pistol fell out of his waistband.[22][23] Hearst, who had been taught to use guns by her father, discharged the magazine of an automatic carbine into the overhead storefront, causing the manager to dive behind a lightpost.[24][25] When he tried to shoot back with the pistol, Hearst, now firing single shots with another weapon, brought her fire closer, blasting fragments around him and holing the light post.[23][26][27]


Escaping from the area, Hearst and the Harrises hijacked two cars, abducting the owners. One, a young man, found Hearst so personable that he was reluctant to report the incident. At the trial he testified to her having discussed the effectiveness of cyanide-tipped bullets, and repeatedly asking if he was okay.[28] Police had surrounded their main base by the time they made their way back and on May 17, 1974, the six SLA members inside died in a gunfight. It was at first thought that Hearst had also perished. Subsequently her father publicly worried that she might be killed in revenge; to allay his fears, the abduction victim gave police a more complete account and a warrant was issued for Hearst's arrest for several felonies, including two counts of kidnapping.[11]

According to one account, Hearst and the Harrises (now the only survivors of the SLA unit that abducted her) bought a car blocks away while the siege was going on, but it broke down when they stopped in an African American area, leaving them with a total of $50. They walked a few hundred yards from the car and hid in a crawlspace under a residential building. When a late night party started in the room above, Hearst readied her weapon saying "the pigs" were closing in on them; in whispers, the Harrises begged her to calm down. With a few dollars left after weeks surviving disguised as derelicts, Emily Harris was sent to a Berkeley rally called to commemorate the death of Angela Atwood, and other founding members of the SLA during the police siege. Among the radicals Harris recognised Atwood's acquaintance Kathy Soliah from civil rights pressure groups and when they had quit a waitressing job in protest of being required to wear humiliating clothing. Through Soliah the three fugitives met Jack Scott, a radical athletics coach, who had been asking for an interview with the SLA. Scott agreed to provide money and help.[29] In a car going to a rural hideout, Scott claimed Hearst was incredulous when an offer to take her "anywhere" was made. According to Scott's account, which Hearst said was false, she had said "I want to go where my friends are going". Scott was never charged for facilitating a recrudescence of the SLA that resulted in murder.[29]

Involvement in later SLA crimes

Hearst helped make improvised explosive devices, one of which failed to detonate, in two unsuccessful attempts to kill policemen during August 1975.[30][31][32] Marked money found in the apartment when she was arrested linked Hearst to the SLA armed robbery of Crocker National Bank in Carmichael, California. She was the getaway car driver for the robbery in which a woman was shot dead by a masked Emily Harris, thereby creating a potential for felony murder charges against Hearst, and making her a possible witness against Harris for a capital offence.[30][33][34]

Legal consequences


Police booking photo

In September 1975, Hearst was arrested in a San Francisco apartment with Wendy Yoshimura, another SLA member, by San Francisco Police Inspector Timothy F. Casey and FBI Special Agent Thomas J. Padden.[3][35][36] While being booked into jail, she listed her occupation as "Urban Guerilla" and asked her attorney to relay the following message: "Tell everybody that I'm smiling, that I feel free and strong and I send my greetings and love to all the sisters and brothers out there."[37]

Brainwashing claims

Patty Hearst weighed 87 pounds and suffered a loss of 18 IQ points, described by Dr. Margaret Singer in October 1975 as "a low-IQ, low-affect zombie".[38] Shortly after her arrest, there were some clear signs of trauma and several DSM-5 classifications: her IQ was measured at 112 from 130 previously; there were huge gaps in her memory regarding her pre-Tania life; she was smoking heavily; she had nightmares.[39] Without a mental illness or defect, a person was held fully responsible for any criminal action not done under duress, defined as a clear and present threat of death or serious injury rather than peer pressure or being a low ranking member of a conspiracy. Securing an acquittal on the basis of brainwashing would be completely unprecedented.[40][41][42][43]

Court-appointed doctor and brainwashing theory proponent Louis Jolyon West stated after a 15-hour interview with Hearst that she was a "classic case" of coercive persuasion or brainwashing: "If (she) had reacted differently, that would have been suspect"[44][45] After some weeks Hearst repudiated her SLA allegiance.[10][46]

Her first lawyer, Terence Hallinan, had advised Hearst not to talk to anyone, including psychiatrists. He advocated a defense of involuntary intoxication: that the SLA had given her drugs that affected her judgment and recollection.[6][11][40][47] Her new lawyer, F. Lee Bailey, asserted a defense of coercion or duress affecting intent at the time of the offense—this was similar to the brainwashing-type excuse that Hallinan had warned was not a defense in law. Hearst gave long interviews to various psychiatrists.[42]

At trial

Hearst alone was arraigned for the Hibernia Bank robbery, the trial commenced on January 15, 1976. Judge Oliver Jesse Carter, who was a professional acquaintance of a junior member of the prosecution team, ruled Hearst's taped and written statements after the bank robbery while she was a fugitive with the SLA members were voluntary. He did not allow expert testimony that stylistic analysis indicated the 'Tania' statements and writing were not wholly composed by Hearst, and permitted the prosecution to introduce statements and actions of Hearst long after the Hibernia robbery as evidence of her state of mind at the time of the robbery. Carter allowed into evidence a recording made by prison authorities of a friend's prison visit with Hearst in which she used profanities and spoke of her radical and feminist beliefs, but did not allow tapes of the interviews of Hearst by psychiatrist Louis Jolyon West to be heard by the jury. Judge Carter appeared to be 'resting his eyes' during testimony favorable to the defense by Dr West and others.[42][48]

According to Hearst's testimony, her captors had demanded she appear enthusiastic during the robbery and warned she would pay with her life for any mistake.[49] Her defense lawyer F. Lee Bailey adduced photographs showing that SLA members including Camilla Hall had pointed guns at Hearst during the robbery.[49]

Testifying for the prosecution, Dr. Harry Kozol, said Hearst had been "a rebel in search of a cause" and her participation in the robbery had been "an act of free will."[50][51] Prosecutor James L. Browning, Jr. asked the other psychiatrist testifying for the prosecution, Dr. Joel Fort, if Hearst was in fear of death or great bodily injury during the robbery, to which he answered "No" as Bailey angrily objected.[52] Fort assessed Hearst as amoral, and said she had voluntarily had sex with Wolfe and Defreeze, an accusation which Hearst denied both in court and outside.[42][53][54] Prosecutor Browning tried to show writings by Hearst indicated her testimony had misrepresented her interactions with Wolfe. She said she had been writing the SLA version of events, and had been punched in the face by William Harris when she refused to be more effusive about what she regarded as sexual abuse by Wolfe. The court heard testimony from the prosecution psychiatrists that included mention of Hearst's sexual experiences that had occurred years before her kidnapping and the bank robbery.[6][55]

In court Hearst made a poor impression and appeared lethargic, according to an Associated Press report this was attributable to drugs she was given by prison doctors .[6] Bailey was heavily criticized for his decision to put Hearst on the stand, then having her decline to answer questions in the presence of the jury. According to Alan Dershowitz, Bailey was wrong-footed by the judge appearing to indicate she would have Fifth Amendment privilege (the jury would not be present, or be instructed not draw inferences) on matters subsequent to the Hibernian bank charges that she was being tried on, but then changing his mind.[42][56][57]

After a few months Hearst provided information, not on oath (sworn testimony could have be used to convict her) of SLA activities to the authorities. A bomb exploded at Hearst Castle in February.[58] After Hearst testified that Wolfe had raped her, Emily Harris gave a magazine interview from prison alleging Hearst retaining a trinket given to her by Wolfe was an indication that she had been in a romantic relationship with him. Hearst said she had kept the stone carving because it seemed to be a pre Columbian artifact of archeological significance. Harris's interpretation was used by the prosecutor James L. Browning, Jr., and some jurors later said they regarded the carving, which Browning waved in front of them, as powerful evidence that Hearst was lying.[6][59]

In a closing prosecution statement that hardly made mention of Hearst having been kidnapped, prosecutor Browning suggested Hearst had taken part in the bank robbery without coercion.[60] Browning also suggested to the jury that women SLA members, being into feminism, would not have allowed Hearst to be raped.[60] He said that Hearst having kept an Olmec carving given to her by Wolfe showed that she had lied about being subjected to rape by him.[42][60]

Bailey's closing defense statement was "But simple application of the rules, I think, will yield one decent result, and, that is, there is not anything close to proof beyond a reasonable doubt that Patty Hearst wanted to be a bank robber. What you know, and you know in your hearts to be true is beyond dispute. There was talk about her dying, and she wanted to survive."[53]

Conviction and sentencing

File:Patricia Soltysik Bank Robbery.jpg
DeFreeze, Soltysik and Hearst (at right) during the bank robbery for which Hearst was tried.

On March 20, 1976 Hearst was convicted of bank robbery and using a firearm in a felony. She was given the maximum sentence possible of 35 years' imprisonment pending a reduction at final sentence hearing, which Carter declined to specify.[61]

Because Judge Carter had died, William Horsley Orrick, Jr. decided on Hearst's sentence. He gave her 7 years imprisonment, commenting that "rebellious young people who, for whatever reason become revolutionaries, and voluntarily commit criminal acts will be punished".[62]

After the conviction

Hearst suffered a collapsed lung in prison (the beginning of a series of medical problems) and underwent emergency surgery, which prevented her appearing to testify against the Harrises on 11 state charges including robbery, kidnapping and assault; she was also arraigned for those charges.[63] Hearst, who was being held in solitary confinement for security reasons, was granted bail for an appeal in November 1976, on condition she was protected on bond. Dozens of bodyguards were hired by her father.[64]

Saying he considered that Hearst's actions had not been voluntary, Superior Court judge Talbot Callister gave her probation on the surplus store charge when she pleaded no contest.[62] California Attorney General Evelle J. Younger, said if there was a double standard for the wealthy it was the opposite of what was generally believed, and though Hearst had no legal brainwashing defense there was a good deal of equity favoring her in the essential point that everything started with her kidnapping.[65]

Hearst's bail was revoked in May 1978 when appeals failed and the Supreme Court declined to hear her case.[61][62] The prison took no special security measures for Hearst's safety until she found a dead rat on her bunk the day William and Emily Harris were arraigned for her abduction. The Harrises were convicted on a simple kidnapping charge (as opposed to the more serious kidnapping for ransom or kidnapping with bodily injury); they were released after serving a total eight years each. Although there were some articles in legal journals about the issues in the case the definition of duress in law remained unchanged.[40]

In the weeks before Representative Leo Ryan was murdered in Jonestown, Guyana, he was collecting signatures for Patty's release,[66] mentioning his own Synanon mass death threats, comparisons to Manson, and questions of the Patty Hearst case. Actor John Wayne, speaking after the Jonestown cult deaths, said it was odd people accepted that one man had brainwashed 900 human beings into mass suicide, but would not accept that a group like the Symbionese Liberation Army could have brainwashed a kidnapped teenage girl.[61][67]

Commutation, release, and pardon

President Jimmy Carter's commutation of her sentence to the 22 months served freed Hearst eight months before she would have had a parole hearing. The 1979 release was under stringent conditions. President Ronald Reagan reportedly gave serious consideration to pardoning Hearst. She recovered full rights when President Bill Clinton granted her a pardon on January 20, 2001, his last day in office.[6][61][68][69]

Life after release

Two months after her release from prison, Hearst wed Bernard Shaw, whom she had met when he was part of a team of bodyguards protecting her on bail. The marriage lasted until his death in 2013. They had two children, Gillian and Lydia Hearst-Shaw.[70] Hearst became prominent on the East Coast society and charitable fundraising scene, being particularly involved with a foundation helping children suffering from AIDS.[71]

Media activities

Her memoir, entitled Every Secret Thing, was published in 1981, and contradicted claims she had been given immunity on the Crocker robbery, reportedly caused consideration of bringing a new prosecution against her.[72] In a 2009 interview for a NBC program on the case, she described the prosecutor's suggestions she had been in a consensual relationship with Wolfe as an insult to rape victims and "outrageous".[73]

Dissatisfied with other documentaries made on the subject, she produced a special for the Travel Channel entitled Secrets of San Simeon with Patricia Hearst in which she took viewers inside her grandfather's mansion Hearst Castle, providing unprecedented access to the property. Hearst has appeared in feature films for director John Waters, who cast her in Cry-Baby, Serial Mom, Pecker, A Dirty Shame and Cecil B. DeMented. With Cordelia Frances Biddle, Hearst collaborated on the writing of a novel titled Murder at San Simeon (Scribner, 1996), based upon the death of Thomas H. Ince on her grandfather's yacht.[71][74]

On February 16, 2015, Hearst's Shih Tzu, Rocket, won the "Toy" category at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show at Madison Square Garden.[75]


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