Cult Expert Louis Jolyon West Dies

Associated Press/January 7, 1999
By Vera Lawlor

Los Angeles -- Dr. Louis Jolyon West, a psychiatrist and cult expert who conducted court-ordered examinations of Jack Ruby and Patricia Hearst, has died of cancer. He was 74.

West, who died Saturday at his home here, headed the psychiatry department and the Neuropsychiatric Institute at the University of California at Los Angeles for 20 years. He retired in 1989, but remained active in research and mentoring students.

West began studying torture and brainwashing during the Korean War, and eventually expanded his research to include post-traumatic stress syndrome, alcohol and drug abuse, pain, sleep problems, dreams and hypnosis.

West frequently served as a court-appointed expert psychiatrist. He testified that Ruby, killer of President Kennedy's assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald, suffered from ``major mental illness apparently precipitated by the stress of his trial and its aftermath.'' That opinion forestalled Ruby's death sentence, and he died of cancer in prison.

West was also one of four psychiatrists who examined Hearst, the kidnapping victim turned bank robber, before her 1976 trial. The panel found she was sane and able to stand trial but ``psychologically damaged as a result of torture.'' It recommended she should be treated before the trial, a recommendation ignored by the court.

In a speech after Hearst's conviction, West said, ``The government finished the destruction of her life started by an anti-government group.'' Her sentence was eventually commuted.

West was sought out by the news media for insight on cults as recently as 1997, when the group Heaven's Gate staged a mass suicide in San Diego.

A civil rights activist, West was the first white psychiatrist to go to South Africa to testify on behalf of black prisoners during the attempt to end apartheid. He was a member of the White House Conference on Civil Rights in 1966, and he worked for years to abolish the death penalty.

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