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Patty Hearst Trial: 1976

Patty Becomes Tania, Captured And Arrested, Defendant Takes The Stand, Psychiatrists Testify Of Brainwashing

Defendant: Patricia C. Hearst
Crimes Charged: Bank robbery and use of a firearm in the commission of a felony
Chief Defense Attorneys: F. Lee Bailey and J. Albert Johnson
Chief Prosecutor: James L. Browning, Jr.
Judge: Oliver J. Carter
Place: San Francisco, California
Dates of Trial: February 4-March 20, 1976
Verdict: Guilty
Sentence: 7 years imprisonment

SIGNIFICANCE: Observers expected Patty Hearst's trial to illuminate how—or if—a young woman from one of America's wealthiest families was transformed by her own kidnappers into a gun-wielding revolutionary dedicated to provoking a violent class war. Shifting public sympathies resulted in a campaign to obtain a presidential commutation of her sentence.

February 4, 1974, Patricia Hearst was a wealthy apolitical college student living with her fiancé in Berkeley, California. That night she was abducted screaming from their apartment at gunpoint, dressed in her bathrobe. Three days later her abductors released a tape in which Hearst told her parents she was being well-treated. It was accompanied by a message from "General Field Marshall-Cinque" of the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA).

Before the Hearst kidnapping, little was known about the SLA, a small but violent group on the fringe of radical leftist politics. In November 1973, they killed Dr. Marcus Foster, the superintendent of schools for Oakland, California. The SLA declared that Hearst was a "prisoner of war" to be ransomed for the release of Joseph Remiro and Russell Little, who were charged with murdering Foster. "Field Marshall Cinque"—an escaped convict named Donald De Freeze—demanded their release. As a gesture of "good faith," the SLA demanded that the Hearst family first distribute $70 worth of food to every needy person in California.

Remiro and Little would not be released. Hearst's father, Randolph, chairman of the Hearst media empire, offered to distribute $2 million worth of food to the poor, with another $4 million to follow his daughter's safe release. The first distribution resulted in a near riot as crowds fought to get food from trucks.

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Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1973 to 1980