Ex-SLA fugitive reaffirms guilty plea

Olson says she helped others; she faces five years in prison

MSNBC/November 6, 2001

Los Angeles -- Former Symbionese Liberation Army fugitive Sara Jane Olson reaffirmed her guilty plea to posssessing bombs with intent to murder policemen Tuesday, but said she was only doing so as an aider-and-abettor.

Olson had been summoned to court by Superior Court Judge Larry Paul Fidler because she had pleaded guilty under a plea bargain last week and then immediately told reporters outside court that she was innocent.

Olson arose in court, and speaking in a firm voice said, "I want to make it clear, your honor, I did not make that bomb. I did not possess that bomb. I did not plant that bomb. But under the concept of aiding and abetting I do plead guilty."

"Because you are guilty of the crimes?" the judge asked her.

"Yes," she said.

Fidler began the hearing by demanding that Olson make a choice and decide if she wanted to reaffirm her plea or continue to declare her innocence outside court.

"The guilty plea is not a waystation on the way to a press conference to claim one's innocence," the judge said. "The integrity of the criminal justice system requires that she make a choice," he added. "She cannot have it both ways."

Olson's attorney, J. Tony Serra, explained to the judge that Olson decided to plead guilty under the concept of aiding and abetting.

"What she meant is, 'I did not factually do that,"' Serra said.

"But she knows that without planting or making the bomb she can be guilty of possessing it ... we want to maintain the plea under the concept of aiding and abetting."

Act of Conspirator

The judge then read to Olson the law as it applies to the crime and those who act as aiders and abetters, telling her that all conspirators are guilty whether or not they personally participate.

"The act of one conspirator in futherance of a crime is an act of all conspirators," he said.

"With that in mind, Ms. Olson, my question is, are you guilty of the crimes to which you pled guilty?"

Olson hesitated in her answer and her lawyers asked for time to confer with her. They left the courtroom for about 10 minutes. They returned and she made her statement.

Prosecutors and the defense continued to express disagreement over what her ultimate sentence may be.

The judge said his only requirement was that Olson understand that she could receive a life term if a parole board should decide to extend her sentence.

She said she understood it was not the present position of prosecutors that she should receive such a long sentence. Her lawyers have said she is likely to receive five years and four months.

"And you want your plea to stand?" the judge asked again.

Olson again hesitated, looked from one of her lawyers to another and shook her head affirmatively.

"Is that yes?" asked the judge.

"Yes," Olson replied.

The courtroom was jammed to capacity for the unusual hearing with Olson's mother and her 19-year-old daughter in the front row, along with her many supporters.

Reminders of a Violent Era

The plea confusion was only the latest twist in a court case that harked back 26 years to the era of the revolutionary SLA, which kidnapped heiress Patricia Hearst. The case was resurrected with Olson's arrest 2½ years ago.

A grand jury accused Olson of trying to murder officers in retaliation for the deaths of six members of the radical group who died in a shootout and fire in 1974.

She was indicted in 1976 under her given name, Kathleen Soliah, but she remained a fugitive until she was captured in June 1999 in St. Paul, Minn., where she was living under the assumed name Olson.

Her arrest came soon after the FBI offered a $20,000 reward on the 25th anniversary of the SLA shootout, and her case was featured on the television show "America's Most Wanted."

Olson vanished shortly after the attempted bombings. She maintained later that she had nothing to do with them and was not in the area when the bombs were planted. She also contended that she was never a full-fledged member of the SLA, but was merely a friend of some of the revolutionaries.

Her brother, Steven Soliah, was tried and acquitted in a related 1975 bank robbery in the Sacramento area.

New Life Built From Scratch

While a fugitive, Olson married, had three children and lived the life of a volunteer and community activist in Minnesota.

She lived in an upscale neighborhood and did not avoid public attention. Her community theater roles drew notice from local reviewers.

The SLA, a violent group that used a seven-headed snake as its symbol, made a name for itself with the kidnapping of the then-19-year-old Hearst from her Berkeley, Calif., apartment in February 1974.

Hearst soon joined the SLA and took the name Tania, and two months after her abduction she was photographed holding a rifle during an SLA bank robbery in San Francisco. She was later arrested and imprisoned until President Carter commuted her sentence.

In the meantime, six heavily armed members of the SLA, including its leader, an ex-convict who called himself Cinque, were discovered by police in a Los Angeles house on May 17, 1974. They died in a shootout with police and fire that consumed the residence.

Hearst later wrote a book in which she implicated Olson in SLA crimes. She had been reluctant to come to Los Angeles and testify against Olson, saying she had put the SLA behind her and did not want to dredge up unhappy memories.

To see more documents/articles regarding this group/organization/subject click here.