Patricia Hearst Says Good May Come From Murder Trial

New York Times/January 23, 2002
By Nick Madigan

Los Angeles -- Patricia Hearst Shaw, the heiress to a newspaper fortune and former kidnapping victim of the Symbionese Liberation Army, said tonight that she remained horrified by the group's acts of violence and that a coming murder trial might resolve the case for relatives of a woman killed in a 1975 bank robbery in which Ms. Shaw admits playing a role.

In an appearance on CNN's "Larry King Live," Ms. Shaw, who was pardoned by President Bill Clinton on his last day in office, said she had no qualms about testifying in the trial of four former S.L.A. members accused of causing the death of a 42- year-old bank customer who was depositing church money when the gang burst in.

"I have no skeletons in my closet," said Ms. Shaw, who lives in Connecticut. "I'm not afraid of going in front of a jury."

Ms. Shaw is once again in the limelight because of the trial in the 27-year-old robbery, which left Myrna Opsahl, a mother of four, dead. In a related case, one of the four charged in the robbery, Sara Jane Olson, formerly known as Kathleen Soliah, was sentenced last week to two terms of 10 years to life for the attempted bombing of two Los Angeles police cars.

A week ago, murder charges were filed against former S.L.A. members William Harris; his former wife, Emily Harris; Michael Bortin; and Ms. Olson.

Prosecutors say those four and three others, including Ms. Shaw, staged a robbery on April 21, 1975, at the Crocker National Bank in Carmichael, Calif., a Sacramento suburb. A warrant was issued for another former member of the S.L.A., James Kilgore, who has been at large since the 1970's.

"They wanted to overthrow the government of the United States," Ms. Shaw said. "They wanted to recruit more members until they started a full-scale war in this country."

Ms. Shaw was particularly critical of the law enforcement officials who declined for 27 years to press charges in the case against people she said were known all along to have been involved.

"Of all the crimes that the S.L.A. committed, there seemed to be no interest in prosecuting this case," said Ms. Shaw, who described the Carmichael robbery in detail in her book, "Every Secret Thing," published in 1982. "I felt I was throwing down the gauntlet. There was a family out there that needed to know what happened."

Officials in Sacramento went ahead with the case recently after new technology enabled investigators to tie the four defendants to evidence at the scene.

"There will be a trial, and there will be an adjudication in this case," Ms. Shaw said. "It's been too long."

As a student in Berkeley in February 1974, Ms. Shaw was kidnapped at her apartment by members of the S.L.A., a radical group that advocated the overthrow of what its members deemed to be fascist institutions in government and industry.

After her kidnapping, Ms. Shaw was converted to the group's cause, if only for a time. Her kidnappers believed that her connection to the wealthy Hearst dynasty would net them not only widespread publicity but also a significant ransom, which they apparently persuaded her to demand publicly in the form of $400 million for the poor.

She admits to having taken part not only in the Carmichael robbery - she drove a getaway car - but also in another bank robbery in which she was photographed with a weapon.

Ms. Shaw went on trial in February 1976, eventually serving 21 months in prison before her sentence was commuted by President Jimmy Carter.

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