- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 27, 2002

One could feel sympathy for 15-year-old Leila Petersen, one of three daughters belonging to Sara Jane Olson (nee Kathleen Ann Soliah), as the youngster burst into tears at her mothers recent sentencing hearing. After Olson received 20-years-to-life in prison for her role in a 1975 plot to kill Los Angeles officers with nail-packed pipe bombs, her daughter became tearful, calling Olson "one of the best mothers anyone could ever want." Hugging her mother, the teen-ager told her, "I will always be by your side no matter what."

A touching testimonial from a child to a parent. But had Olsons long-ago plot actually worked, Officer John Hall, for one (whose squad car, prosecutors contend, Olson booby-trapped), would have been killed. Thats a fact. The policemans wife would have become a widow, his 3-month-old infant would have become fatherless, and his two younger children would never have been born. Those are facts, too.

But Olson has enormous difficulties facing the facts. While having apologized for the first time for her deeds at the sentencing hearing, Olsons acceptance of responsibility "for any mistakes I have made" remains abstract and distant. Olson isnt much more forthcoming in her convoluted probation statement. "I am aware now that some of the things I did to help people helped perpetuate a course of action that contributed to harm and pain for others," she writes. It looks as if Olson is actually padding her conscience against the burdens of responsibility, not baring it.

Little wonder, then, that just moments after her sentencing, Olson was pleading not guilty to murder charges arising from a 1975 Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA) bank robbery in Sacramento, Calif. The victim all those years ago was a 42-year-old woman named Myrna Opsahl, whose fate it was to be depositing church funds at a bank just as the SLA gang was robbing it. After suffering a shotgun blast in her side, Mrs. Opsahl lay bleeding on the bank floor as the robbers (including Olson, prosecutors say) gathered roughly $15,000 and fled — later using the money, the prosecution will contend, to fund the attempted bomb plot in Los Angeles.

Mrs. Opsahl was rushed to the local hospital where the attending surgeon, Mrs. Opsahls own husband, pronounced her dead. She left behind four children, among them Jon Opsahl, then 15 years old — the same age Olsons daughter Leila is today. Thats another fact. Will Olson own up to it? Hard to say. Not that it matters. What counts is the trial and the reckoning it brings. "Our family has waited 26 years for this day," Mr. Opsahl said. "Im very happy that my mothers murder is getting the attention it deserves and I trust that justice will be served."

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