November 29, 2003

Margaret Thaler Singer, 82, one of the world's leading experts on cults and brainwashing - who served as an expert witness in numerous high-profile court cases, including testifying for the defense in the 1976 bank-robbery trial of kidnapped newspaper heiress Patricia Hearst - died Sunday of pneumonia in a Berkeley, Calif., hospital

Dr. Singer interviewed Ms. Hearst extensively after her capture in 1975. Kidnapped by the revolutionary Symbionese Liberation Army in 1974, Ms. Hearst eventually joined her captors.

Enlisted to determine whether Ms. Hearst had been brainwashed into delivering the group's revolutionary ideology, Dr. Singer testified in a hearing outside the jury's presence that she had studied Ms. Hearst's speech patterns - along with those of SLA members - and concluded that on most of the seven tape recordings issued by the SLA, Ms. Hearst was reading statements written by her captors.

The trial, which resulted in Ms. Hearst's conviction, greatly boosted Dr. Singer's stature as an expert in brainwashing.

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