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SLA quartet answers for '75 Calif bank job

Feb. 14, 2003 at 11:01 PM   |   Comments

SACRAMENTO, Feb. 14 (UPI) -- The saga of one of the nation's most notorious criminal gangs faded to a near close Friday when four one-time members of the radical Symbionese Liberation Army were sentenced to prison for their roles in a 1975 bank robbery in Northern California that left a young mother dead.

Sentences ranging from six to eight years in prison were handed down in a packed Sacramento courtroom. The four graying ex-revolutionaries had shocked the nation with the sensational Patty Hearst kidnapping, and later the deadly stick-up at a Crocker Bank branch in which a church secretary named Myrna Opsahl was shot to death.

"Goodbye, mom. I love you," said the victim's son, Jon Opsahl. "And good riddance, SLA."

Friday's sentencing left only one SLA member, James Kilgore, awaiting disposition of criminal charges dating back to the mid-1970s when the leftist SLA launched a daring crime wave in California that included the sensational kidnapping of newspaper heiress Patty Hearst from her Berkeley apartment in February 1974.

The SLA's downfall began May 17, 1974, with a fierce shootout with the FBI and Los Angeles police that left six members dead in a burning bungalow in the Watts district.

Hearst and other SLA members had not been present at the hideout when the LAPD closed in.

Hearst was the driver of a getaway car when the SLA raiding party hit the Crocker Bank in the Sacramento suburb of Carmichael on April 21, 1975. The gang planned to use the loot to finance their so-called revolutionary actions while on the run from a massive dragnet in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Hearst spent 21 months in a federal prison facility for her role in the robbery before President Carter commuted her sentence in 1979; President Clinton formally pardoned her in 2001.

Hearst had always maintained that it was SLA member Emily Harris who had fatally shot Opsahl inside the bank.

The 55-year-old Harris, now remarried and known as Emily Montague, told the court Friday that she would "be sorry for the rest of my life" for the robbery and Opsahl's death and "would feel a deep sense of remorse."

Montague, sporting conservative short blonde hair and horn-rimmed glasses, was sentenced to eight years in prison under the terms of a plea bargain reached last November with Sacramento County prosecutors.

Montague's former husband, Richard Harris, 58, was sentenced to seven years while the other two defendants, Michael Bortin, 54, and Sarah Jane Olson, 55, were given six years apiece.

"I can offer nothing but my apologies," Bortin, an Oregon flooring contractor, told the courtroom prior to sentencing.

Olson was the only defendant not to speak during the hearing. She was sentenced to 14 years in prison last year for attempting to bomb two Los Angeles police cars. Known as Kathleen Soliah during her SLA days, Olson lived underground until her arrest in 1999, as a suburban soccer mom and wife of a doctor in St. Paul, Minn.

Kilgore was taken into custody in South Africa after his four cohorts struck their plea agreement. Charges against him stemming from the Crocker robbery will be disposed of at a later date.

(Reported by Hil Anderson in Los Angeles)

© 2003 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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