Patty Hearst prosecutor James Browning dies at 83 in Arizona
PHOENIX (AP) — The lead prosecutor in the case that sent newspaper heiress Patty Hearst to jail in what was then one of the most sensational trials in U.S. history has died in Arizona. He was 83.
James Browning Jr. died in the Tucson suburb of Oro Valley on Tuesday after a fall, his brother David Browning said.
Born in Globe, Arizona, in 1932, James Browning attended law school in San Francisco before becoming the prosecutor in San Mateo County, California. He was appointed U.S. attorney in Northern California by then-President Richard M. Nixon.
He rose to even greater prominence when he won the case against Hearst, who was 19 when she was kidnapped in 1974 by a group known as the Symbionese Liberation Army, and then joined their cause. The self-styled radicals viewed aspects of U.S. society as racist and oppressive, and were accused of killing a California school superintendent. Several members of the group died in a fire and shootout with police in Los Angeles.
But it was a group bank robbery that raised questions about whether Hearst was forced into crime or a willing participant. The daughter of newspaper magnate Randolph A. Hearst eventually went on trial in 1976 on bank robbery and other charges.
James Browning helped secure her conviction, squaring off with noted defense lawyer F. Lee Bailey.
Linda Deutsch, a retired Associated Press reporter who wrote about the Hearst trial and many others, said Browning was known as a low-key, methodical prosecutor, particularly in comparison to Bailey, whose courtroom theatrics would aid in O.J. Simpson’s acquittal two decades later.
Bailey had portrayed Hearst as a brainwashed victim, and Deutsch said the jury believed that until Browning presented his last piece of evidence. He played a jail cell recording of Hearst talking with a friend. She was confident, cursing and fully aware of her role with the Symbionese Liberation Army.
It changed the course of the trial.
“He was just very quiet, unassuming. So the prosecutor who seemed to be soft spoken and not a particularly impressive personality turned out to be a powerful force,” Deutsch said. “The Hearst family was stunned. Everybody was stunned.”
David Browning said his brother, a U.S. attorney, decided to prosecute Hearst himself because it was such a high profile case.
But outside the courtroom, it didn’t appear like Browning looked for the limelight.
Deutsch said she didn’t recall Browning even doing interviews.
“Jim Browning, in a way, didn’t get the notoriety you would expect. Somehow people remembered the defense lawyers and they remembered the SLA and they remember Patty Hearst. But they didn’t remember the guy who got that case together. He was the winner.”
David Browning said his brother remained steadfast over the years that Hearst was guilty and deserved to go to prison for her roles in SLA crimes, even after President Jimmy Carter commuted her sentence and Bill Clinton granted her a pardon.
“He really didn’t waver. It’s as simple as that,” David Browning said.
Associated Press Writer Josh Hoffner contributed to this report.