In the 1990s, she could be seen in John Waters's motion picture Crybaby, and heard as an off-screen caller to a radio talk show on the TV series Frasier. She had appeared on the runways of Paris as a fashion model, wearing a sequined evening gown designed by friend Thierry Mugler. Her story had been told as a movie, Patty Hearst, in which she was played by Natasha Richardson, and even as an opera, Anthony Davis's Tania. Ever since the 1970s, Patricia Campbell Hearst has been very much in the public eye.
On February 4, 1974, Hearst, the nineteen-year-old daughter of Randolph A. Hearst and Catherine C. Hearst, of the Hearst newspaper chain, was kidnapped by a tiny group of political extremists who called themselves the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA). They locked Hearst in a closet for many weeks, where she was taunted, sexually assaulted, and raped repeatedly. The SLA held her for an unusual form of ransom: they demanded that the Hearst family distribute millions of dollars of food to poor and needy people of the San Francisco Bay area. Although the Hearsts complied with this and other SLA demands, the young woman did not return to her parents. Instead, she sent them a tape recording in which she announced that she had decided to become a revolutionary, join the SLA, and go underground.
On April 15, 1974, the members of the SLA, accompanied by Hearst, robbed the Hibernia Bank in San Francisco. A month later, a botched shoplifting attempt at a sporting goods store by SLA members Bill Harris and Emily Harris led
the police to the SLA hideout. A gunfight ensued, and all six SLA members inside at the time were killed. Only Hearst, the Harrises, and Wendy Yoshimura survived.
Sixteen months later, and eighteen months after her abduction, Hearst was arrested by the federal bureau of investigation after an investigation that had covered the entire United States. She was tried by jury for armed bank robbery, convicted, and sentenced to seven years in prison. On February 1, 1979, after Hearst had served approximately two years of the original sentence, President jimmy carter, stopping short of a full pardon, commuted her sentence.
Hearst claimed at her 1976 federal trial for armed bank robbery that she had, in fact, undergone no political conversion. She claimed that even as she stood in the Hibernia Bank cradling a rifle in her arms, she remained the same person who, only a few months earlier, had chosen the china and crystal patterns for her upcoming marriage. Her defense, orchestrated by her attorneys, f. lee bailey and Albert Johnson, was that she had been brainwashed. This defense did not exist in law and had only been attempted in "collaboration-with-the-enemy" charges against U.S. prisoners of war during the korean war. As in the Korean War cases, the Hearst attorneys were forced to add a defense that was allowed by law: duress. The crux of the defense's case was that Hearst, owing to brainwashing or coercion, had not had criminal intent when she participated in the bank robbery.
Three defense psychiatrists testified that the defendant had not been responsible for her actions; two prosecution psychiatrists testified that she had been responsible. The young woman testified that she had been in fear of her life as she stood inside the Hibernia Bank. The judge instructed the jurors,
You are free to accept or reject the defendant's own account of her experience with her captors …. Duress or coercion may pro vide a legal excuse for the crime charged against her. But a compulsion must be present and immediate … a well-founded fear of death or bodily injury with no possible escape from the compulsion.
The jury found her guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, thereby implicitly stating its belief that she had acted intentionally and voluntarily in robbing the Hibernia Bank; she had been neither brainwashed nor forced to participate.
In August 1987 Hearst filed a petition for a pardon before President ronald reagan. Her attorney, George Martinez, stated that "she wants to put it all behind her. And she wants to get some indication that there is now complete understanding by the government of the extraordinary circumstances under which she participated" in the Hibernia Bank robbery. In 1977, as governor of California, Reagan had called for executive clemency for Hearst; he was thus considered Hearst's best chance for a pardon. But Reagan left office in 1988 without granting the pardon. Hearst's petition then fell to george h. w. bush, who also failed to grant the pardon. Hearst finally received her pardon when she was among a list of controversial people, including Marc Rich, that President bill clinton pardoned on his last day in office.
In 1996, Hearst was a member of the Screen Actors Guild and lived just fifty miles outside of Manhattan with her husband and former bodyguard, Bernard Shaw, and her two children.
"Clinton Defends Pardons, Saying Individuals 'Paid in Full' for Crimes." 2001. CNN (January 21). Available online at <www.cnn.com/2001/ALLPOLITICS/stories/01/21/clinton.pardons> (accessed on December 18, 2003).
Freedman, Suzanne. 2002. The Bank Robbery Trial of Heiress Patty Hearst: A Headline Court Case. Berkeley Heights, N.J.: Enslow.
Practising Law Institute (PLI). 1985. Post Traumatic Stress Disorders, and Brainwashing as State of Mind Defenses in Criminal, and Civil Fraud Cases by David P. Bancroft. Litigation and Administrative Practice Course Handbook series: Criminal Law and Urban Problems, PLI order no. C4-4174.