December 29, 1975 12:00 PM

For more than a year, Americans were asking, “Where is Patty Hearst?” Now the question is, “What is Patty Hearst?”—an unregenerate urban guerrilla or a victim of terror? Kidnapped Feb. 4, 1974, from the Berkeley, Calif. apartment she shared with her fiancé, Steven Weed, the 19-year-old newspaper heiress appeared at first to be a helpless hostage of the yahoo Symbionese Liberation Army. As time went on, however, tape-recorded messages from Patty to her parents showed signs of a conversion to radicalism. “I have chosen to stay and fight,” she said on April 3. Nearly two weeks later, photographs of a San Francisco bank robbery showed a gun-toting Patty taking part in the crime. Though six SLA members later died in a shootout with Los Angeles police, she and two companions, William and Emily Harris, eluded authorities until their capture in San Francisco last September.

Now being held without bail at the San Mateo County Jail in Redwood City, Calif., Hearst faces trial in January on bank robbery charges. Her lawyer, F. Lee Bailey, has announced that her defense will be simple: “Somebody put a gun to my head and I did what they told me.” In court she will be portrayed as a cheerful, all-American girl before she was kidnapped, and expected to testify to that state of mind is her ex-roommate, Steven Weed. While with the SLA, Patty denounced him in savage terms. Even if she is acquitted, however, Patty faces charges of kidnapping and attempted robbery in Los Angeles. Most ominous, investigators claim there is evidence that could link her to a bank robbery last April in Carmichael, Calif., in which a woman customer was coldly gunned down.

Her jail offers a 2,500-calorie-a-day diet, but Patty, according to her attorneys, is down to an emaciated 94 pounds. Apparently she has reconciled with her family and visits with them four times a week by phone through bulletproof glass. Otherwise, having completed 51 days of psychological examinations, she has settled into a routine of card playing, reading, knitting, crocheting and TV watching. “She is withdrawn, but not to the extent she was initially,” says Al Johnson, another of her lawyers. Isolated from other prisoners except at mealtimes and recreation periods, she wakes at 6:30 a.m., when the lights flick on in her cell. After dressing in her prisoner’s white, blue and orange smock and blue pants, she cleans her private cell, then joins the other inmates for a breakfast of cereal or bacon and eggs. She recently gave up smoking and has let her hair, once dyed red, return to its natural brown. Other prisoners have described her as friendly but reticent, neither an outspoken radical nor a voluble feminist, and usually in good spirits. “The only time I knew of Patty crying was once when she had a visitor and we could hear her weeping,” reported one former inmate. “Ordinarily she appeared to be holding up well, but I think the strain of not knowing when she would get out was beginning to wear on her.”

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