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Ex-fugitive seeks to withdraw plea in '70s SLA case

LOS ANGELES, California (CNN) -- In her latest about-face, Sara Jane Olson said she wants to withdraw her guilty plea to a charge of possessing bombs with intent to kill police officers -- part of a plot by the Symbionese Liberation Army, a 1970s radical group -- because "I cannot plead guilty when I know I am not."

In a motion filed Tuesday in Los Angeles Superior Court, Olson acknowledges that she did not misunderstand Judge Larry Fidler last week in court when he read the charges against her and she pleaded guilty. Instead, the motion said Olson felt she "had no choice" because of the September 11 terrorist attacks and their possible influence on a jury.

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"Cowardice prevented me from doing what I knew I should: Throw caution aside and move forward to trial," Olson said in the motion. "I am not second-guessing my decision as much as I have found the courage to take what I know is the honest course. Please, Judge Fidler, grant my request to go to trial."

The motion said Olson realizes a jury could find her guilty, but she is now willing to take that risk. "After deeper reflection, I realize I cannot plead guilty when I know I am not," she said in the motion.

Olson drew the judge's ire when she pleaded guilty two weeks ago and then proclaimed her innocence to reporters outside court. Fidler held a new hearing last week, and Olson -- who sighed heavily and rolled her eyes during the session -- again pleaded guilty.

Sandi Gibbons, a spokeswoman for the Los Angeles district attorney's office, said prosecutors have looked at the latest document and have asked for a hearing on the matter the week after Thanksgiving. A date has not been set yet.

Gibbons said it is not unusual for a defendant to "have a change of heart or buyer's remorse," but there has to be grounds for withdrawing a plea.

"There is insufficient grounds for her to change her plea," Gibbons said. "She's basically had three chances to change her mind and withdraw the plea.

"The first was in the written agreement where the plea and the consequences of the plea were all spelled out, and she signed that document. ... She made her own statement on the charges and admitted in open court -- not once but twice -- that she is guilty based on the law."

Fidler grilled Olson in the most recent hearing, asking her if she was indeed guilty of two counts of possessing bombs in 1975 with intent to kill Los Angeles police officers that she had agreed to in the plea.

"Under the concept of aiding and abetting, I plead guilty," Olson told the judge. She also said she did not make the bombs or plant them.

Fidler asked her if she was pleading guilty "because you are, in fact, guilty?"

"Yes," Olson replied.

Olson's attorneys said they hoped that she would serve only about three to five years in prison as a result of the plea, but Fidler reiterated she could face 20 years to life under the terms described by a law passed in 1975.

She was to be sentenced December 7.

Free on $1 million bail, Olson -- who was named in the indictment by her real name, Kathleen Soliah -- was charged with planting bombs under patrol cars in an attempt to kill Los Angeles police officers. The action allegedly was in retaliation for the deaths of six SLA members in a police shootout in 1974.

Olson had been on the run for more than 20 years until she was captured in Minnesota two years ago. Her arrest stunned many in the community who had described her as an upstanding citizen and mother of three children.



Greta@LAW

 
 
 
 



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