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Olson sentenced to 20 years in bomb plot

Ex-SLA member now faces murder charge

LOS ANGELES, California (CNN) -- A 1970s radical, a mother of three who lived for 25 years as a fugitive, was sentenced to 20 years to life in prison on Friday for her role in the attempted bombing of police cars in 1975.

Sara Jane Olson, whom prosecutors describe as a former member of the Symbionese Liberation Army, also pleaded not guilty on a separate first-degree murder charge relating to a 1975 California bank robbery in which a bystander was fatally shot.

Superior Court Larry Fidler handed down two consecutive 10-years-to-life terms for Olson, who dropped her real name, Kathleen Soliah, when she was living as a fugitive. The sentence followed testimony from friends and family members who tearfully described her as a caring and compassionate woman.

Gallery: Courtroom Quotes 

Olson said she "did not participate in these events," but said she was sorry "for any pain I caused."

Olson fled California and evaded arrest for more than two decades before she was arrested in Minnesota in 1999. She had married and was raising three daughters there. Many residents rallied to her cause and helped post bail for her.

"We will always stand by you until you come home," Olson's husband, Gerald Peterson, told her.

Friday's sentencing related to what prosecutors have described as an 1975 SLA plot to murder Los Angeles police officers by planting bombs under two patrol cars. The bombs, however, did not explode, and no one was injured. Olson pleaded guilty to two counts of possessing bombs with intent to kill, although she later tried unsuccessfully to withdraw that plea.

John Hall, one of the officers in whose patrol car a bomb was planted, told the judge that had the bomb detonated, he would have left his wife a widow and never seen his daughter grow up or the birth of his son.

He likened Olson's actions to "a form of terrorism."

Immediately after sentencing, Olson pleaded not guilty to a murder charge in connection with the April 1975 robbery of Crocker National Bank in Carmichael, California. Myrna Opsahl -- a 42-year-old mother of four who was depositing money for her church -- was shot and killed in that robbery.

Three other SLA suspects -- Michael Bortin, former SLA field marshal Bill "Teko" Harris and his former wife, Emily Harris -- are also charged with murder in that case. A fifth person charged, James Kilgore, remains at large.

Kidnapped newspaper heiress Patricia Hearst drove the getaway car in the notorious robbery and has written about the shooting: In her 1981 book, Hearst said Emily Harris pulled the trigger and defended the shooting by saying Opsahl was from the upper class.

"She was a bourgeois pig anyway. Her husband is a doctor," Hearst quoted Emily Harris as saying.

When Olson is brought to Sacramento to be reunited with Bill and Emily Harris, it will reassemble the alleged remnants of a revolutionary team that is believed to have kidnapped Hearst in February 1974.

Olson's father, Martin Soliah, said he wasn't surprised by the murder charges.

"I knew it was coming as long as Patty Hearst keeps shooting her mouth off," he told a CNN producer at his home in Palmdale, California. "It disgusts me."

Hearst also said two others participated in the robbery, accusing Steven Soliah of standing watch outside and Wendy Yoshimura of driving a second getaway car. Soliah is the brother of Olson, who went by the name of Kathleen Soliah at that time.

Hearst, Steven Soliah and Yoshimura were given immunity for testimony in grand jury proceedings years ago.




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