SLA's Olson sentenced, sent to Sacramento

By HIL ANDERSON   |   Jan. 18, 2002 at 4:33 PM
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LOS ANGELES, Jan. 18 (UPI) -- Fugitive radical-turned-housewife Sara Jane Olson was sentenced to two consecutive 10-year prison terms for her role in a 1975 bomb plot during an emotional court hearing in Los Angeles Friday, and was then shipped off to Sacramento to face a newly-filed murder charge that also stemmed from her days in the Symbionese Liberation Army.

Olson, 53, tearfully hugged her sobbing teenage daughter during the hearing in Los Angeles Superior Court before being sentenced on her guilty plea to charges she conspired to commit murder by blowing up the LAPD cruisers using pipe bombs that failed to explode.

"She has always been there for me," Leila Peterson, 15, said of her mother, who lived quietly as a Minnesota housewife and soccer mom before being tracked down in 1999 and arrested for taking part in the bomb plot during the days she went by her given name of Kathleen Soliah.

"She is one of the best mothers anyone could want," Peterson told the court, smiling over at her mother after every sentence.

Olson's attorneys had hoped their client would be given a relatively light sentence in return for her guilty plea, however the announcement this week that she and four other former SLA members were being charged with a homicide apparently put that possibility to rest.

Olson was ordered held on $1 million bail and then transferred to Sacramento County for further proceedings stemming from the 1975 shooting death of Myrna Opsahl during an SLA robbery at the Crocker National Bank in Carmichael. Olson was charged with being one of the four robbers inside the bank.

Also charged Wednesday were Bill and Emily Harris, Michael Botin and James Kilgore. All but Kilgore, who has been a fugitive for 27 years, were arrested this week near their homes in California and Oregon where they had been living low-key middle-class lives.

Along with the bandits, the SLA had four members waiting as drivers of the getaway vehicles, including then-fugitive newspaper heiress Patricia Hearst, whose kidnapping from her Berkeley apartment by the SLA in 1974 captured nationwide headlines. Hearst, who was given immunity from prosecution several years ago in return for her testimony about SLA activities, identified Emily Harris as the person who shot Opsahl, a 42-year-old church secretary and mother of four children who was at the bank that day depositing church funds.

Dressed in a modest navy blue dress and wearing tortoise-shell horn-rimmed glasses, Olson smiled broadly to her family as she entered the courtroom. She then told Superior Court Judge Larry Fidler Friday that she was not directly involved in the planting of the bombs, but she apologized regardless.

"If I did anything that brought harm to other people, then I apologize because I did not mean to," Olson said.

Olson's lawyer, Shawn Chapman, told reporters that her client "never meant to hurt anyone."

District Attorney Steve Cooley said after the hearing that he was unimpressed with the apology and the sad sight of Leila Peterson desperately pleading for leniency for her mother.

"What came to my mind when she talked about Miss Soliah cooking and taking her children here and there, was Myrna Opsahl and all the meals she wasn't able to prepare for her family and all the events her family had without her being present," lamented Cooley.

"I think her apology was mixed," he added. "I think it was to a great extent given to her family and friends and rather vaguely to the victims in our case and to the next of kin of the victim in the Carmichael robbery."

Olson and the other defendants face possible life prison terms. California's capital punishment provisions were not in effect in 1975, so by law prosecutors may not seek the death penalty.

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