- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 4, 2001

LOS ANGELES (AP) A judge refused yesterday to allow Symbionese Liberation Army radical Sara Jane Olson to withdraw her guilty plea to attempting to blow up police cars in the 1970s.

"She pled guilty because she is guilty," Superior Court Judge Larry Paul Fidler said. "Everything I've heard since then has not convinced me otherwise."

Before ruling that the plea must stand, Judge Fidler gave Olson a chance to take the stand and be cross-examined about her role in the case. She refused.

"It speaks volumes that Ms. Olson will not submit to cross-examination," the judge said.

He said that he could not accept a guilty plea from an innocent person and be able to sleep.

"I intend to sleep very well," he said.

Olson, 54, pleaded guilty Oct. 31 and then promptly told reporters she was innocent and had entered her plea because the post-September 11 climate had made it impossible to get a fair trial on terrorism charges.

She later asked to withdraw the plea. She could get 20 years to life in prison at her Jan. 18 sentencing.

The judge called her back on Nov. 6 to explain herself, and she reaffirmed the plea but asserted she was guilty only of aiding and abetting.

During yesterday's hearing on the withdrawal motion, the judge denounced the defense team for using the terrorist attacks as a reason to say their client could not get a fair trial. Judge Fidler said that without questioning prospective jurors about it, there was no proof that such a connection exists.

"This constant trying to link this trial to September 11 is abhorrent," he said. "It is unfair to those who died September 11, and it's unfair to the prospective jury. It's ridiculous. It's just another allegation to try to keep this case from going to trial."

Olson was a fugitive for more than 20 years until her 1999 arrest on charges she tried to murder officers by planting bombs under police cars to avenge the deaths of six SLA members in a 1974 shootout. The bombs did not explode.

She had been living in Minnesota as the wife of a doctor and mother of three children, and she had changed her name from Kathleen Soliah.

Yesterday's hearing began with defense attorney Shawn Snider Chapman accusing another member of the Olson legal team of browbeating out a guilty plea.

Miss Chapman said attorney J. Tony Serra's "powers of persuasion" were overwhelming.

"He coerced her strongly to do it," she told the judge. "Mr. Serra screamed and yelled at her and told her she would be an idiot if she didn't take the deal."

Mr. Serra, the San Francisco attorney who has been directing Olson's defense, did not show up for the hearing. The judge called the lawyer's absence "absurd, unprofessional and inexcusable."

Last week, Mr. Serra said in court documents that he was partially responsible for her mental state when she pleaded guilty and that she was in a "psychological condition of coercion."

"Without putting a gun to her head, he made her come in here and say the things she said," Miss Chapman said.

Prosecutor Eleanor Hunter argued that Miss Chapman was employing "the girl defense": "I was a girl and couldn't stand up to a big strong man."

The judge issued his decision after the prosecution presented an overview of the case against Olson, which was illustrated with a computer presentation of photographs and chronologies prosecutors said linked her to the bomb plot. It was a virtual history of the SLA in California and showed that the case would have rested heavily on the testimony of star witness Patricia Hearst.

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