- The Washington Times - Friday, March 20, 2009

SACRAMENTO, CALIF. (AP) - This week’s release of Sara Jane Olson to her adopted home state of Minnesota leaves one last member of the violent 1970s-era Symbionese Liberation Army still in prison, serving out the final months of his California sentence.

James William Kilgore managed to elude authorities the longest of any of his former radical comrades, who made headlines with their kidnapping of newspaper heiress Patty Hearst, the murder of an Oakland school official and numerous bank robberies. Kilgore stayed underground for nearly three decades before being arrested in 2002 in Cape Town, South Africa.

Like Olson _ his former girlfriend who was unmasked three years earlier _ the aging former radical had built a prosperous new life during his decades on the run.

While Olson spent 24 years as a doctor’s wife raising three daughters, Kilgore became a University of Cape Town professor, writing one of South Africa’s most popular high school history books, “Making History,” under his alias of Charles William Pape.

And like Olson, who returned to St. Paul on Tuesday after serving a seven-year sentence, Kilgore wants to rejoin his family in the Midwest. Kilgore is asking that he be allowed to serve his year of parole in Illinois, though state prison officials have not decided whether to grant the request.

“He’s going to live in the States. His family has moved here,” said attorney Louis Freeman of New York City, who represented Kilgore after his arrest and remains in contact with his former client.

Kilgore, now 61, had married an American woman while living in South Africa. His wife teaches at a university, and his two sons have grown up while he’s been in prison; one is in college, the other in high school.

He is set to be released from High Desert State Prison at Susanville in May after completing a six-year sentence for the killing of suburban Sacramento housewife Myrna Opsahl during an April 1975 bank robbery.

The state sentence is on top of a 54-month federal prison sentence for using the birth certificate of a dead baby to obtain a passport in Seattle and for possession of a pipe bomb that federal authorities said they found in his Daly City apartment in 1975.

Kilgore was born in Portland, Ore., in 1947, but grew up near San Francisco. He was an athlete and honors student at San Rafael High School athlete, then graduated in 1969 from the University of California, Santa Barbara.

He grew into an SLA bomb-maker during the tumultuous days surrounding the collapse of the Vietnam War and resignation of disgraced President Richard M. Nixon. He escaped a 1974 shootout with Los Angeles police that killed six of the SLA’s original members.

The group was most notorious for murdering Oakland school superintendent Marcus Foster and kidnapping Hearst. The heiress, who later contended she had been brainwashed, helped the group commit bank robberies including the one that killed Opsahl, a 42-year-old mother of four who was there to deposit a church collection. The robbery netted $15,000.

“I can say if there is one day in my life I could live again, it would be that moment,” Kilgore said at his sentencing for second-degree murder in 2004.

William Harris; Harris’ former wife, Emily Montague; Michael Bortin; and now Olson have all served time for the murder and been released.

Kilgore disappeared from San Francisco on Sept. 18, 1975, the day FBI agents arrested Hearst and four other SLA members. He went with Olson, known then as Kathy Soliah, first to Minneapolis, then to Zimbabwe. Olson returned to the United States, while he remained in Africa until his arrest.

Freeman, his attorney, said Kilgore has served his prison time like he lived his life after he fled the country: teaching.

He taught other inmates Spanish and English as a second language, and learned sign language himself. Both Freeman and a 2003 probation report refer to Kilgore as a “model inmate” with no disciplinary problems.

“He’s just the kind of person who makes the best of every situation,” said Freeman. “He’s not somebody who grouses or complains or can’t wait to get out.”

He expects Kilgore will return to teaching and writing, following the mold of former ‘60s radicals Angela Davis and Bill Ayers.

Kilgore won grudging sympathy even from Jon Opsahl, who was 15 when his mother died of a shotgun blast during the bank robbery.

“I had the most compassion, I think, for James Kilgore,” Opsahl said. “I don’t know why. I just think he had a little more of a pure, idealistic philosophy. … He did not want anyone to get hurt. Even though he was the explosives expert, he always insisted that they go to great lengths to make sure no one was harmed.

“I think he wanted to do good someplace in the world and he got in with the wrong crowd,” Opsahl said.

Kilgore apologized at his federal sentencing for violent acts he said were “misguided and misdirected.”

“There aren’t any shortcuts to meaningful social change,” he told the federal judge.

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