This Day In History: November 19

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Patricia Campbell Hearst, a granddaughter of the legendary publishing magnate William Randolph Hearst, is released on bail pending the appeal of her conviction for participating in a 1974 San Francisco bank robbery that was caught on camera.

Hearst’s ordeal began on the night of February 4, 1974, when, as a 19-year-old college student, she was kidnapped from her Berkeley, California, apartment by armed gunmen. The kidnappers, members of a political terrorist group called the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA), beat Hearst’s fiancé and drove off with the heiress in the trunk of their car to a hideout near San Francisco.

The kidnappers demanded the release of two SLA members in prison for murder, a request that was denied, and called for Hearst’s family to donate millions of dollars to feed the poor. The Hearsts eventually established a program called People in Need (PIN) to distribute $2 million worth of food, but negotiations with the SLA deteriorated after the group demanded additional millions for PIN.

After being abducted, Patricia Hearst was locked in a closet by her captors for two months and subjected to mental and physical abuse. As a result, she later claimed, she was brainwashed into becoming an SLA member, adopting the name Tania and renouncing her family.

In April 1974, the SLA robbed the Hibernia Bank in San Francisco and surveillance videotape captured Hearst holding a gun. In May of that same year, six SLA members, including the group’s leader Donald DeFreeze (who called himself Field Marshall Cinque Mtume), were killed when their house went up in flames during a shootout with police in Los Angeles that was broadcast on live television. Hearst, along with several other SLA members not in the house at the time, remained on the lam for another year.

Law enforcement finally caught up with Hearst in September 1975 in San Francisco, where she was arrested and charged with armed robbery and use of a firearm during a felony, in connection with the Hibernia Bank heist. When authorities asked her occupation, Hearst famously replied “urban guerilla.” During her widely publicized trial, Hearst’s famous defense attorney, F. Lee Bailey, claimed she’d been brainwashed and made to believe she’d be killed if she didn’t comply with her captors and go along with their criminal activities. However, in March 1976, a jury found her guilty of armed robbery and she was sentenced to seven years in prison. In November of that year she was released on bail while lawyers tried to appeal her conviction, but the appeal was later denied and Hearst went back to prison.

Hearst spent almost two years behind bars before her sentence was commuted by President Jimmy Carter in 1979. Shortly thereafter, she married Bernard Shaw, her former bodyguard, and went on to raise a family in Connecticut. She later became a writer and actress. In 2001, President Bill Clinton granted Hearst a presidential pardon.

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