- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 1, 2001

LOS ANGELES (AP) Saying the September 11 terrorist attacks made a fair trial impossible, former Symbionese Liberation Army fugitive Sara Jane Olson pleaded guilty yesterday to trying to blow up police cars outside a police station and restaurant in the 1970s.
"I pleaded to something of which I'm not guilty," Olson said outside court. "Given that law enforcement has risen in credibility, it was inevitably going to play on the minds of jurors."
Olson, 54, made no reference to the attacks during the hearing in which she admitted to possessing bombs and attempting to explode them in two incidents one at the Hollenbeck Police Station in Los Angeles and another near a House of Pancakes restaurant in Hollywood on Aug. 21, 1975.
Neither bomb went off, but Olson pleaded guilty to a charge that specifically said she had the bombs with the intent to murder police.
Prosecutors dismissed three other charges, but did not guarantee Olson a specific sentence. Her attorneys said they expect her to get about five years in prison, but she could be sentenced to life. Sentencing is scheduled for Dec. 7.
"Sara Jane Olson is truly a victim of September 11," defense attorney J. Tony Serra said. "We didn't have a level playing field. They have brandished about the term of domestic terrorism."
Prosecutor Eleanor Hunter said one of the 1975 bombs was one of the largest pipe bombs ever built in the United States and would have injured many people had it gone off.
"There's no doubt she was a member of the SLA and that she conspired to do the crimes and did do the crimes with which she was charged," Miss Hunter said.
Olson must surrender to authorities Jan. 18. Prosecutors are expected to recommend that she serve her sentence in Minnesota, where she was captured two years ago living with her husband and children.
The case dates back to the era of the SLA, the leftist revolutionary group behind the 1974 kidnapping of newspaper heiress Patty Hearst.
Olson was charged with targeting police officers in retaliation for the deaths of six SLA members who perished in a shootout and fire in 1974. She vanished a short time after the attempted bombing.
She was indicted in 1976 under her given name, Kathleen Soliah, but remained a fugitive until her June 1999 capture in St. Paul, Minn., where she was living under the assumed name Olson.
She had married an emergency room doctor, had three children and was living the life of a volunteer and community activist in an upscale St. Paul neighborhood. Her community theater roles even drew notice from local reviewers.
In Minnesota, supporters who helped raise Olson's $1 million bail said they were surprised by Olson's plea.
"I can't believe this," friend Kathy Cima said. "I just hope that [the judge] considers her good work and the fact that she was a very good citizen and a member of the community for so long."
Olson maintained that she had nothing to do with the plot and was not in the area when the bombs were planted. She also said she was never a full-fledged member of the SLA, but was merely a friend of some of the revolutionaries.
Miss Hearst, who was photographed during an SLA bank robbery in San Francisco and later imprisoned before receiving a presidential commutation, wrote a book in which she implicated Olson in SLA crimes.
She had been reluctant to testify against Olson, saying she had put the days of the SLA behind her.
Prosecutors has promised to bring up every crime committed by the SLA, including the 1973 killing of Oakland schools Superintendent Marcus Foster. Olson was not charged with that crime or any others besides the attempted bombings, but prosecutors maintained that her association with the group showed her violent intent.
After the hearing, Olson said she had to consider the possibility of being convicted and sentenced to life in prison.
She said her attorneys advised that her chances of a lesser sentence would be better if she pleaded guilty.
The plea followed many delays in bringing the case to trial, including a defense attempt to postpone the trial until next year because of concern jurors might be biased because of the terrorist attacks.

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide