Prosecutors Oppose Olson Plea

Los Angeles Times/November 29, 2001
By Linda Deutsch

Los Angeles -- Prosecutors said Thursday that if a judge is considering allowing Sara Jane Olson to withdraw her guilty plea, the former Symbionese Liberation Army fugitive should be forced to undergo cross-examination about the decision.

Deputy District Attorneys Eleanor Hunter and Michael Latin filed a motion opposing withdrawal of the plea and said they want to question Olson about the truthfulness of her reasons for now seeking a trial.

"Contrived protestations of innocence voiced after fully informed, voluntary pleas of guilty are not valid grounds for withdrawal of a plea," the prosecutors said.

Superior Court Judge Larry Paul Fidler has scheduled a hearing on the matter for Monday.

Olson, 54, was a fugitive for more than 20 years until her 1999 arrest on charges she tried to murder officers by planting bombs under police cars to avenge the deaths of six SLA members in a 1974 shootout. The bombs didn't explode.

She had been living in Minnesota as the wife of a doctor and mother of three children. She had changed her name from Kathleen Soliah.

The status of her case has seesawed since Oct. 31, when she announced a surprise decision to plead guilty to possessing bombs with intent to murder police officers. But her plea was thrown into question when, immediately after leaving the courtroom, she told reporters she had pleaded to charges of which she was innocent.

Olson said she was persuaded to plead guilty because the attacks of Sept. 11 created a climate in which she could be found guilty by jurors biased against anyone accused of domestic terrorism -- even if the alleged crimes occurred 26 years ago.

After her comments, Fidler called another hearing, questioned Olson about her decision and allowed the guilty plea to stand.

Five days later, Olson filed a motion asking to withdraw her guilty plea. She contended that cowardice prevented her from withdrawing her plea earlier.

Her lawyer, J. Tony Serra, filed a declaration Monday taking partial responsibility for her mental state when she pleaded guilty and saying she was in a "psychological condition of coercion."

Olson, who is scheduled to be sentenced Dec. 7, could face 20 years to life if her guilty plea stands. Her lawyers had said, however, that they expected her to serve about five years.

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