L.A. Judge to Decide on SLA Delay

The Associated Press/October 15, 2001

Los Angeles -- A lawyer for a former Symbionese Liberation Army radical wants a delay in her trial, citing a climate not favorable to allegations of domestic terrorism.

A judge was to hear arguments Monday on whether to begin the trial of Sara Jane Olson, charged with placing bombs under police cars 26 years ago. Prosecutors want the trial to proceed, saying it has been delayed long enough.

But Olson's lawyer is seeking a delay, in part because he argues the Sept. 11 attacks have brought a renewed respect for law enforcement officers and little patience for terror tactics.

"In times of crisis, people feel more vulnerable and look to the government to protect them,'' Shawn Snyder Chapman said. "When police officers are so heroic, jurors don't want to question their credibility. That's what we're dealing with.''

Free on $1 million bail, Olson is charged with trying to murder Los Angeles police officers by planting bombs under patrol cars in 1975. The action allegedly was to retaliate for the deaths of six SLA members in a police shootout a few months earlier.

Chapman said the allegations are likely to scare jurors, even though the incident happened a quarter-century ago and the bombs did not explode. Prosecutors adamantly oppose Chapman's motion to delay the trial until January.

"There is no valid reason that the turn of international events should cause the judicial system, or any single case within it, to come to a grinding halt,'' Deputy District Attorneys Eleanor Hunter and Michael Latin said in court documents.

They see it as just another in a long string of delay efforts by the defense since Olson, a Minnesota homemaker and doctor's wife, was arrested two years ago on conspiracy and attempted murder charges.

Patricia Hearst, the one-time SLA hostage who joined her captors, is to testify against Olson, formerly known as Kathleen Soliah.

"Jurors may not remember the SLA, but they are likely to remember those pictures of Patty Hearst,'' said Loyola University Law Professor Laurie Levenson. "And they may be reminded that was the last time that a radical group held us hostage.''

Levenson said the continued threat of terrorism in the United States may lead juries to be more trusting of prosecutors and less likely to feel sympathy for a defendant.

She noted the case could have been tried months ago when the police department was under the stigma of the Rampart police corruption case that led to charges being thrown out or convictions overturned in more than 100 cases.

"Now the police are heroes, and the stain of Rampart has been quickly erased by the events of September 11.''

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