- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 10, 2002

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) It began with the impassioned oratory of social revolution, a school superintendent's assassination, Patricia Hearst's kidnapping, a bloody Los Angeles shooting and a bank robbery ending in murder.
It ended nearly three decades later, in a courtroom where four baby boomers confronted their violent past and a day later in a comfortable South African suburb where the last fugitive was arrested.
The final chapter in the story of the Symbionese Liberation Army is about young, brash radicals outgrowing their rage and settling into the very type of middle-class existence they once said they detested.
Facing the prospect of spending their retirement years in prison, they wrote a different ending last week, addressing their past and apologizing to their victims.
"They really wanted this over," said attorney Stuart Hanlon, representing one of the four SLA members who pleaded guilty Thursday to second-degree murder in the 1975 bank-robbery slaying of Myrna Opsahl. "I mean, they wanted it for the Opsahls. They wanted it for themselves."
Prosecutors were satisfied with the plea agreements, which allowed them to avoid taking the 27-year-old case to trial with lost evidence, faded memories and witnesses who had died.
"The Opsahls and I believe that these pleas and the defendants' willingness to acknowledge responsibility and give up their right to profit gives a measure of justice," Sacramento District Attorney Jan Scully said.
The last SLA fugitive, James Kilgore, was arrested Friday in Cape Town, South Africa, where he was a university lecturer. He was wanted on long-outstanding pipe-bomb charges and had been trying to negotiate his surrender, Mr. Hanlon said.
In the decades since the SLA disbanded, some of the members charged in Mrs. Opsahl's death have served prison time, but others changed their identities and went underground. They all eventually rebuilt their lives, becoming parents, professionals, community volunteers.
They were also haunted by their crimes and expressed relief last week at finally exorcizing past demons.
"I never entered that bank with the intent of harming anyone," said Sara Jane Olson, who changed her name from Kathleen Soliah after going underground, then married a St. Paul, Minn., doctor and had three children. "I am truly sorry, and I will be sorry until the day I die."
The defendants' tearful admissions contrasted with the SLA's image.
A dozen college-educated children of middle-class families founded the group in 1973. Its symbol was a seven-headed snake, and its slogan was "Death to the fascist insect that preys upon the life of the people."
SLA members Joseph Remiro and Russell Little were convicted of the 1973 murder of Oakland schools Superintendent Marcus Foster and the wounding of another school official. They were ambushed with cyanide-tipped bullets.
Other SLA members kidnapped newspaper heiress Patricia Hearst in 1974, the same year six members died when their hideout was burned in a shootout with Los Angeles police. Two of the defendants in court Thursday, Emily Montague and Bill Harris, served prison time for the kidnapping.
Their guilty pleas stemmed from the robbery of a suburban Sacramento bank where Myrna Opsahl, a 42-year-old mother of four, had come to deposit a church collection.
Montague, 55, fought back tears as she recalled how the shotgun she carried into the bank accidentally discharged.
"There has not been a day in the last 27 years that I have not thought of Mrs. Opsahl and the tragedy I brought on her family," said Montague, a computer consultant who lived in the Los Angeles suburb of Altadena until her arrest.
Montague, with Olson, 55; Kilgore, now a father of two; Harris, 57, a private investigator from the San Francisco Bay area; and Michael Bortin, 54, a Portland, Ore., flooring contractor, were charged in January with first-degree murder in Opsahl's death.
At sentencing Feb. 14, the four who pleaded guilty Thursday will face prison terms of six to eight years. All could be freed by 2006 or 2007, except Olson, who is serving a 14-year sentence for a 1975 attempt to blow up two Los Angeles police cars.

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