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Former SLA Member to Go on Trial for 1975 Attempted Bombing

Aired April 30, 2001 - 12:30   ET


ROGER COSSACK, CO-HOST: It was a radical 1970s group famous for kidnapping newspaper heiress Patty Hearst. The end of the Symbionese Liberation Army came in a deadly shoot-out with the police and the FBI. Now, after leading a double life, former SLA member Kathleen Soliah, also known as Sara Jane Olson, goes on trial for allegedly trying to kill Los Angeles police officers in 1975.


SARA JANE OLSON, FRM. SLA MEMBER: I was not in Los Angeles. I did not place those bombs under those cars. I was not in Carmichael Bank in Sacramento. I am innocent.


COSSACK: Today on BURDEN OF PROOF, the trial of Sara Jane Olson, plus, the search for the last SLA fugitive. Can the FBI resurrect a trail on James Kilgore more than two decades after losing it?

ANNOUNCER: This is BURDEN OF PROOF with Roger Cossack and Greta Van Susteren.

COSSACK: Hello and welcome to BURDEN OF PROOF.

After a quarter century, a former member of the Symbionese Liberation Army goes on trial today. In less than 30 minutes, the trial of Sara Jane Olson will begin in Los Angeles Superior Court. She is accused of planting bombs which never detonated under Los Angeles police cars in 1975.

Last week, Olson's lawyers requested a continuance to September to allow them more time and money to prepare their case and that request was rejected by Judge Larry Fidler (ph).

Joining us today from New York is criminal defense attorney Gerald Lefcourt. From Houston, we're joined by former FBI special agent Don Clarke. Here in Washington, Nicole Holly (ph), Brian Jones (ph) and Linda Terry (ph), and in the back, Stephen Benz (ph) and Katherine Dunnigan (ph).

I want to go right to you, Gerald. You have represented many other fugitives in these kinds of situations. You've been identified with representing people who have come from political movements in the past. What's it like representing a fugitive and doing, and offering representation to someone like this?

GERALD LEFCOURT, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Well, it's a very difficult situation, particularly if the attorneys are new to the situation, like Tony Cerra (ph) and Shawn Chapman (ph). They haven't been living with this case for 25 years. So they're coming in after the fact. If you had been living with it, at least you're up to speed. You knew what happened then and you knew what witnesses were around and you have a file.

But could you imagine coming in 25 years later to somebody who doesn't have funds to really mount a defense? You are really hoping that the county will provide it and you have to put together 25 years ago what occurred, who the parties were, where they were, what possible witnesses, in order to meet a government case which presumably is in a file and well put together by law enforcement? It's a very, very difficult problem.

COSSACK: All right, Gerry, I'm going to return to you in just a little while. But I want to go right now to Larry Hatfield. Larry, you have been covering this case for the "Chronicle." Tell us about Sara Jane Olson and this trial.

LARRY D. HATFIELD, "THE SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE": Well, I can tell you a little about Sara Jane. She emerged after the shoot-out in Los Angeles in 1974 when six SLA members were killed. She was not a member of the SLA and she was an above ground supporter of the three fugitive SLA people who included Patty Hearst at the time.

She appeared at rallies here in the Bay Area and Berkeley and elsewhere in support of the SLA. And later, about a year later, she was accused of putting the bombs under the police cars in Los Angeles, along with Jim Kilgore, who is still a fugitive.

She's charged in that case with conspiracy to commit murder, which could carry a life imprisonment term.

COSSACK: Larry, Sara Jane Olson then disappears from sight for some 25 years, a quarter of a century, and then is arrested in Minnesota. What was her life like then?

HATFIELD: Well, in Minnesota she was, this is almost a cliche, soccer mom. She appeared in little theater productions back there and participated in the neighborhood get togethers and was considered a gourmet cook in the kind of upscale St. Paul neighborhood where she lived. She was the friend of some prominent legislators back there and from all accounts led a law abiding, very normal life.

COSSACK: She had been married. She was married back there and had children back in Minnesota. Do we understand how she was finally apprehended and arrested?

HATFIELD: That's unclear. The FBI had a pretty good idea where she was and some television show carried a story about her being missing and then right after that the arrest came. So I believe they probably had some informant. COSSACK: All right, Gerry, I want to go back to you in New York. Gerry, the idea now of, as you have, you initially articulated, of going to defend someone who has been gone for 25 years, how do you go about beginning to prepare a defense? I mean obviously one of the things you're going to have to do is try and see what the prosecution is alleging, but how do you go about preparing a defense other than saying look, this is a wonderful woman, look what she's been doing in Minnesota all these years?

LEFCOURT: Well, there's that aspect, of course, getting together all of her present life to show that this is not the type of person that would have committed these crimes and that's character type evidence. But worse than that is much more going back to find the witnesses, to first of all get discovery from the government and to try to convince the judge, because of the delay and the fact that you haven't been her attorney over these years, you have nothing and you should be at least provided initially with everything the government has and then you have to go back and get investigators.

They, I think, have used six investigators so far to find people from that era. I mean it's a very -- she has a -- she claims she wasn't in Los Angeles, she wasn't in San Francisco or Sacramento at the time of the bank robbery. You have to prove that. I mean you have to try to prove it and that's by interviewing as many people that were around at the time.

COSSACK: Now, doesn't, Gerry, this same kind of problem that you just articulated, go for the prosecution, too? I mean aren't, don't they have the same time warp problem?

LEFCOURT: Actually, you know, it depends on whether their case is dependent on witnesses or circumstantial physical evidence. You know, in this case, I'm not sure that the prosecution would be a disadvantage because I'm not aware of any witnesses that they've lost because of time and they may have, because of new scientific discoveries in how to present and deal with evidence, they may be better off.

Their file didn't change. Whatever they had when they indicted her back 25 years ago, they still have, as I understand it, and they may even have been able to get more with perhaps scientific advancements.

COSSACK: All right, let's take a break.

Up next, trying the case of Sara Jane Olson a quarter century after the fact. Plus, how did the FBI find the former Kathleen Salia after all these years? Don't go away.

LEGAL BRIEF: On this day in 1927, the first federal prison for women opened in West Virginia. All women serving sentences of more than one year were sent there.


COSSACK: At 10:00 A.M. Pacific Time, 1:00 P.M. Eastern, the trial of Sara Jane Olson is scheduled to begin in Los Angeles. Olson, also known as Kathleen Salia, is accused of planting bombs that never exploded under LAPD squad cars in the mid-1970s as part of the Symbionese Liberation Army.

Don Clarke, let's talk a little bit about how the FBI goes ahead and finds people, finds fugitives. This is a woman who was a fugitive for 25 years before being tracked down. What is the procedure?

DON CLARK, FORMER FBI SPECIAL AGENT: Well, Roger, this is where, from a pure law enforcement perspective, where the FBI can really contribute to our justice system and society because what you've got is that once that case comes to the FBI, it's going to get some attention. And when you look at the structure of the organization, where you've got 56 major offices, 400 plus minor offices across the country and even 27 or so office throughout the world, that as information comes in, if need be, it's going to go directly to wherever one of those places it should be and the people there are going to respond immediately.

So you've got continuous tracking, reviewing and analyzing of information to keep that connectivity together. So as long as there's process outstanding, you're going to have someone giving this some attention. So that's a good thing that they can do and it just doesn't allow itself to really run cold.

COSSACK: Now, is there a particular unit in the FBI, Don, that goes ahead and is dedicated to going ahead and trying to find fugitives and track down people?

CLARK: Not necessarily in the FBI, the totality of the FBI, but each one of those major field divisions will have a unity or an entity within that that's designated to do those particular type of investigations. And as they develop information, usually there will be a nucleus or a central location we call an office of origin and then they will farm out information. And you know what another key is to that type of investigation, Roger, is that they don't make a just a summary judgment on information that comes in. All the information happens to be brought in, reviewed, analyzed and then determinations are made and somebody will get out and cover a lead.

COSSACK: All right, let me now go by telephone to Andy Dawkins, who is a friend of Sara Jane Olson, also a Minnesota state representative. Mr. Dawkins, thank you for joining us. You know Sara Jane Olson. Tell us a little bit about her and how you got to know her.

ANDY DAWKINS, FORMER FAMILY ATTORNEY FOR OLSON: Well, for 22 years I've known her as one of the most wonderful Minnesotans you could ever imagine, a volunteer in her community every which way, someone who read to the blind every morning over the radio, read the newspaper to them, someone that went to our local high school to teach English as a second language to new immigrants so they could become citizens. One thing after another that she did was just a wonderful thing and none of us had any idea that she had been Soliah at one time in her life. And so we're all in shock still and just hoping she gets a fair trial. COSSACK: Andy, you understand what she's charged with. She's charged with planting bombs under police cars in Los Angeles, bombs that, thank goodness, whether she had anything to do with them or not, did not go off. How does this square with the person that you just told us about?

DAWKINS: Well, it doesn't square at all and so it's either something that she didn't do, which I'm hoping it turns out to be the case, that that's the way the trial turns out, or if it's something that she did do, it's sure an aberration from who we know. But, you know, I've got to go back to that point in time when I was in my '20s in the 1970s and I know that as hard as I tried to stay peaceful in the demonstrating that I did for civil rights and to end the war and all those kinds of things, there were enough episodes of violence in the civil rights movement with police dogs and church bombings and the National Guard coming to Kent State and shooting and one thing after another, that it was just the context of those times was a little bit different than today.

So, not that it's an excuse for her, but I think that it was part of those times and if she got caught up in it by living in the wrong city at the wrong time and knew the wrong people, I just hope she wasn't part of actually trying to do any bombing.

COSSACK: All right, let's go back to Gerry Lefcourt in New York now. Gerry, as a lawyer in this situation, you just heard a wonderful description by a neighbor, a Minnesota state representative, a person who says I just don't believe it happened, it could happen. But, you know, maybe it did happen, even though this is not the person I know. How do you deal with that? What do you work with from that?

LEFCOURT: Well, I mean the first part of what he said is the most wonderful kind of character witness that one could have, somebody who is respected in the community, who knows firsthand all about her good works in the community. And that type of character witness, her trait of peacefulness, of, you know, of obeying society's commands, indeed, being a leader in helping other people, are all traits that this jury should know about in determining whether this is the kind of person who committed this crime.

The other thing he said is that, what if? Well, you know, that's a, unfortunately, a sentencing issue. If she should be convicted, that is very, very important on sentencing so that the judge knows what kind of world it was in the early '70s. I remember it very, very well.

I remember a society that was totally torn apart and there were wrongdoers on both sides and the government was a major wrongdoer. It lied to its people. It tried to repress anti-war activity and this group, SLA, which was not a significant part of that era by any means, perhaps aberrational and a little bit over the top, committed acts -- and I'm not saying that she was involved in them -- she apparently was above ground and not part of the underground SLA...

COSSACK: But Gerry...

LEFCOURT: ... that were not supportable.

COSSACK: ... let me play prosecutor for a second. I'm going to stand up there and say you know what? You've just heard from Mr. Lefcourt and he's articulate and what he says is right. But folks, 25 years ago the evidence showed that this woman was perhaps a different woman than she became. And she tried to plant these bombs and it was only by good graces that these bombs didn't go off and kill someone.

I mean that whole dichotomy that's going to go on in that courtroom with you trying to say this is a, or the lawyer trying to say this is a wonderful person and the prosecutor saying go back 25 years, you owe us that obligation.

LEFCOURT: And what will happen...

COSSACK: Is that what the tension in the courtroom is going to happen?

LEFCOURT: Roger, that's what's going to happen and jurors will be torn. There'll be some evidence, I'm sure, that connects her to this crime, whether it's believable or enough evidence, we don't know.


LEFCOURT: But there certainly will be other evidence that suggests she wasn't underground with them, she was an over ground supporter and she's lived a life that really tells you who she is. And so the jurors are going to end up in that jury room with conflicting and pulling emotions. And I think it's very, very likely, unless the state's evidence is very strong, that they're going to see from how her history played out that this is not the type of person that would put a bomb under a police car.

COSSACK: All right, let's take a break. When we come back, Kathleen Soliah wasn't the only former SLA member on the lam and the FBI is still searching for her former boyfriend and a forensic artist could help them rekindle a cold trail. Stay with us.

Q&A: Why did police in Rockford, Illinois have to kill a 1,000 pound Black Angus bull on Sunday?


Q&A: Why did police in Rockford, Illinois have to kill a 1,000 pound Black Angus bull on Sunday? The bull was roaming around a youth soccer field. The bull was said to be dangerous and tranquilizer darts could not be found.

COSSACK: The FBI is stepping up its search for the last fugitive from the Symbionese Liberation Army. James Kilgore facing federal explosive charges in 1976 fled agents, fled, I'm sorry. Agents lost his trail more than two decades ago. Now, investigators are offering a $20,000 reward for information leading to Kilgore's capture and they've unveiled a bust of what the 53-year-old fugitive might look like today. Joining us today from Philadelphia is the man who created the bust for the FBI, forensic artist Frank Bender. Frank, thank you for joining us.

You have worked with the FBI, in fact, you've worked with Don Clark, another guest on our show today, in assisting the FBI in finding fugitives and you have developed this forensic method of, for example, of building a bust. And you have a bust that you've developed of what you think James Kilgore might look like today. Let's take a look at that bust and tell us about how you put it together.

FRANK BENDER, FORENSIC ARTIST: Well, I worked from photographs that were supplied to me by the bureau from back then and I tried to get photographs of the family members and see how they've aged and take into consideration eating habits, drinking habits, hereditary factors, drug use if there was any hobbies, sports, interests. All that goes into how a person looks. It's a composite.

And in order to make this bust as accurate as possible, I'll take a frontal view photograph that's not distorted. What I mean by distorted, say, a photograph with a wide angle lens up close or something, and I'll take this normal photograph and enlarge it to what I feel is about life size of a head and then I will over that draw an acetate overlay. With a magic marker I will draw over this clear acetate and then I will build my clay out to the perimeters of this acetate, because one thing that's really important is to stay within the framework of the individual. Example, eyes, nose, mouth, width of head, length of head, chin, all that has to be very accurate.

COSSACK: All right, Frank, now in this particular bust that you've created of what you think James Kilgore may look like, now I notice that his hair is pretty gray. Now why did you conclude that?

BENDER: Well, you, when I looked at the photograph of his father, it was very gray. There is some color in his hair. There's some grayish reddish brown that's a little washed out from the lighting. But basically it's gray and his hair line has receded. He also has, as you can see, ears on the large side. So he will probably cover those ears with some of that hair that's on the side there to downplay that.

There is a certain amount of vanity, I understand, that's with Kilgore and he also is very hairy, a lot of hair on his arms, a lot of hair on his chest that can be seen through the opening on the shirt at the top. And he also has a lot of freckles on his face.

COSSACK: All right, let me bring back in Don Clark. Don, you've worked with Frank before. Does this something, is this a method that the FBI utilizes and how successful is it?

CLARK: Well, I tell you, in the time that I've worked with this method and worked with Frank on this, this has been some years ago in the late '80s back in Newark, New Jersey, it's been very effective. And I think this is where law enforcement has really evolved to, and to use the old cliche, Roger, thinking outside of the box. And not to sound like a commercial for Frank, but he does a fantastic job of being able to take the information that's provided from the investigators and put that information together using whatever science that he uses to show an aging process that we may be able to use or the organization can use in order to catch people.

John List (ph) killed his family up in Westfield, New Jersey probably in the late '60s and it wasn't until the late '80s that he was arrested and brought to justice and it was amazing the comparison of the bust that was formed by Mr. Bender there and the current mug shots that was taken of John List when he was arrested.

So, I think, again, this is where law enforcement has evolved to. Clearly the FBI is that. They have a lot of skills and techniques. But special skills and techniques like these, they're out there, and if they're not, if they're legitimate, they're not illegal, they don't break any rules and they're ethically correct, then we ought to be using them and I really applaud him for using it again now.

COSSACK: Frank, how many of these kinds of busts have you created for law enforcement and how generally successful have you been with them?

BENDER: Well, I've been fairly successful. I did Allie Boy Alfonse Persico, underboss of the Colombo crime family, for the U.S. Marshals Service and through the help of my bust they got him. They showed the bust to people in the Connecticut area and this one woman recognized the bust and did not recognize his actual color photograph from prison and said he's living in that apartment house across the way. The Marshal Service went over and they talked to the supervisor. The supervisor, ironically, while they were in the office, got a call from Persico, who was having problems with his stove, and they went up and got him.

COSSACK: Frank, I'm afraid that I have to interrupt you, but we're out of time. So thank you for joining us. Thanks to all of our guests today and thank you for watching. Join us again tomorrow for another edition of BURDEN OF PROOF. We'll see you then.



4:30pm ET, 4/16

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