by Jean Henry Mead
It’s hard to believe that it’s been 35 years since newspaper heiress Patty Hearst was kidnapped from her Berkeley, California, apartment by the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA).
For those too young to remember, the 19-year-old was abducted February 4, 1974 from her apartment after the left-wing guerrlla group assaulted her fiancé Steven Weed. At least four shots were fired at people on the street as the screaming teen was blindfolded by two men and tossed into the trunk of their car.
Patty was reportedly brainwashed by the SLA and came to identify with the group. In April of 1974, she took part in a bank robbery, later claiming that the gun she held was empty, and that her apparent complicity with the group was a ruse to ensure her safety. She was, however, arrested the following year and eventually convicted of the crime. Her seven-year prison sentence was later commuted by President Jimmy Carter and she was fully pardoned by Bill Clinton on his last day in office.
The granddaughter of publishing magnate, William Randolph Hearst and great-granddaughter of millionaire George Hearst, Patricia was the third of five daughters born to Randollph Hearst and Catherine Campbell. She grew up in the wealthy San Francisco suburb of Hillborough and attended girls schools in San Francisco as well as Monterey. Among her friends was Patricia Tobin, whose family founded the Hibernia Bank, a branch which Patty later helped to rob.
The SLA demanded the release of jailed SLA members for Patty’s return. When that failed, they demanded that the Hearst family donate $400 million worth of food for California's less fortunate residents. Randolph Hearst immediately donated $6 million worth of food to the Bay Area poor, but the SLA refused to release his daughter. In a subsequent recording sent to the press, Patty said that her father could have done better. She also said that she had joined the guerrilla group and taken the name of Tania.
Two months later, on April 15, Patty was photographed holding an M1 Carbine during the robbery of the Sunset District branch of the Hibernia Bank in San Francisco. Newspapers later printed alleged reports from “Tania” that she was committed to the SLA goals. Warrants were subsequently issued for her arrest in September of 1975. The folowing year she was arrested in a San Francisco apartment with other members of the group and imprisoned. Listing her occupation as “Urban Guerilla,” she asked her attorney to “Tell everybody that I’m smiling, that I feel free and strong and I send my greetings to all the sisters and brothers out there.”
F. Lee Bailey defended Patty Hearst during her trial, which began on January 15, 1976. Bailey said that his client had been blindfolded and kept in a closet, and that she had been physically and sexually abused. Her defense was that she had been the victim of concerted brainwashing which contributed to the Stockholm syndrome, when hostages sympathize with their captors.
Bailey argued that Patty had been coerced or intimidated into taking part in the bank robbery, but she refused to give evidence against the other captured SLA members, which was seen as complicity by the prosecution. The jury obviously felt the same way for Patty was sentenced to 35 years in prison, later commuted to seven. Legal analysts later said that Bailey had done a poor job defending her because he gave a short, incompetent closing argument, but Patty Hearst served less than two years of her sentence when pardoned by Jimmy Carter on February 1, 1979.