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Hearst ready for SLA trial showdown

By HIL ANDERSON   |   Jan. 23, 2002 at 3:49 PM   |   Comments

LOS ANGELES, Jan. 23 (UPI) -- Patricia Hearst has served notice that she is ready and willing to take the stand as a likely key witness against four veterans of the Symbionese Liberation Army who are accused of murdering a bank customer during a 1975 holdup staged by the now-defunct radical gang.

Nearly 30 years after she became a household name during the bizarre crime spree with the SLA, Hearst said Tuesday night on CNN's "Larry King Live" that she was ready to help put away the four middle-aged members of the group that kidnapped her, brainwashed her and dragged her into a brief but violent career as a bank robber during the mid-1970s.

"They were a terrorist group," said Hearst, who has admitted driving a getaway car during the robbery at the Crocker National Bank in Carmichael in which a customer and mother of four children, Myrna Opsahl, 42, was killed by a shotgun blast. "When I was kidnapped, they published all of their statements about their war that they had declared on the United States and what they wanted to accomplish and their purpose."

"This (robbery) was considered a revolutionary action," she added. "It was an ex-appropriation of funds."

Hearst, 47, has also maintained that she heard the robbers talk about the shooting as they fled the scene. The information garnered will likely make her a major prosecution witness against Richard Harris, his ex-wife, Emily, Michael Bortin and Kathleen Soliah; Soliah lived underground in Minnesota for nearly 27 years under the name Sara Jane Olson before being tracked down by the FBI in 1999.

In 1975, the defendants made up what remained of the SLA, probably the most violent and notorious radical gang in the United States during the 1970s. Dedicated to the overthrow of the government, the SLA made sensational headlines with a series of bank robberies, the murder of the superintendent of Oakland's school system, and the 1974 kidnapping of Hearst from her Berkeley apartment.

The kidnapping saga became even more sensational when Hearst announced that she was switching sides, had adopted the name "Tanya" and had joined the SLA's leftist struggle.

Hearst served 21 months of a 7-year prison sentence for a bank robbery that occurred prior to the Carmichael heist. She had been given immunity from prosecution in the Carmichael case and was later pardoned by President Clinton.

Appearing anxious to testify in the Carmichael case, Hearst on Tuesday repeated her long-held contention that she had been brainwashed after being rudely yanked from her relatively carefree life as a college coed in Berkeley.

"I have lived my entire adult life in many ways haunted by what happened, but I had to get on with my life from that point and still remember that there are bad people out there and you have to be careful," said Hearst, who also told King that she found the SLA's "bloodthirstiness" chilling.

"I had been held by them," she said. "I knew how violent they were. I don't want to say I was surprised (by the Opsahl shooting). I mean, there's a difference between being horrified by what they do and being surprised by what someone will do."

Olson was sentenced to 20 years in prison last week for her role in an unsuccessful SLA bomb plot in Los Angeles. Hearst had been on the prosecution's witness list; however, Olson pleaded guilty before the trial began.

Olson's Los Angeles lawyer, Shawn Chapman, said Tuesday that Hearst was not as solid a witness it might at first appear due to apparently inconsistent statements about the SLA that Hearst has made in past legal proceedings.

"Patty Hearst has been disbelieved in every venue that she's testified in," Chapman told reporters in Sacramento. "There's a memo in our files which indicates that she was interviewed in connection with this investigation many years ago. The memo is from the U.S. Attorney and says, 'Nothing this woman says can be believed.'"

"She lacks all credibility. She testified in her own trial and was not believed and (was) convicted," Chapman said.

Hearst did not appear to be dissuaded by the criticism, telling King that she was not worried about facing cross-examination and wanted to testify in order to close the books on the SLA. She also noted that past SLA prosecutions in which she had been scheduled to testify had ended instead with guilty pleas.

"I feel that now there can be closure to this case," Hearst said. "This has gone on far too

long."

© 2002 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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