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Brother-in-law of '70s radical asks court to grant her bail

Fischer told the court he believes Soliah will not jump bail  

July 14, 1999
Web posted at: 5:46 p.m. EDT (2146 GMT)

In this story:

'She would absolutely stay with her kids'

Defense says case against Soliah is weak


LOS ANGELES (CNN) -- The brother-in-law of fugitive radical Kathleen Soliah told a California judge Wednesday that he and his wife were willing to contribute to her bail if the court would grant it, because they were confident she would not flee.

Soliah, 52, pleaded not guilty to charges she planted explosives beneath the cars of Los Angeles police officers in 1975 while a member of the radical Symbionese Liberation Army. None of the bombs planted beneath the police cars exploded and no officers were injured, but Soliah could still face a sentence of life in prison if convicted.

She fled California and remained a fugitive for 23 years, creating a new life in St. Paul, Minnesota, as Sara Jane Olson -- mother of three, community volunteer, and the wife of physician Fred Peterson.

Kenneth Fischer, who is married to Peterson's sister, said he had no idea that the woman he knew for 19 years as Sara Jane was a fugitive.

"This came as a complete surprise to my wife and me," he told the court. "I saw (the news of her arrest) on television."

Prosecutors argued that Soliah should not be allowed bail at all, or that bail should be in the $3 million range.

'She would absolutely stay with her kids'

But Fischer said he had no doubt that Soliah would not flee if granted bail. "She would absolutely stay with her kids," Fischer said.


He said that he was willing to contribute to bail for Soliah, along with many of her neighbors and friends in St. Paul.

"A number of them of limited means are willing to dig very deep into their pockets because they have faith in her," Fischer said. "I know people are looking at their life insurance policies, in our case, our mortgage, doing whatever we can to get this person reunited with her family."

Asked how he reconciled what he knows about his sister-in-law with the fact that she is a different person, Fischer said, "We're all going to want to sit down with Sara and have a conversation about this. It's difficult, and it's something that I want to get some answers to."

Fischer was among several character witnesses, including friends and community leaders from St. Paul, who testified on behalf of Soliah before the bail hearing broke for lunch.

"The Sara Jane that I know has a committed life in Minnesota, with the community, with her children, with her family, and I know she would come back," said Wendy Knox, the artistic director of a small theater company where Soliah worked as an actress.

Defense says case against Soliah weak

Sara Olson waived extradition proceedings in Minnesota and has admitted she is the fugitive Soliah, a soldier in the SLA -- best known for its kidnapping of heiress Patty Hearst. Susan Jordan, one of Soliah's lawyers, tried to put her decision to flee in context of the social and political upheavals of the mid-1970s.

"It was a time of extraordinary turmoil," she said. "There were excesses on both sides ... the smell of tear gas was common."

Prosecutors argued that Soliah's two-decade evasion of authorities and the possibility that she could face charges in an SLA bank robbery-slaying near Sacramento in 1975 justify either a high bail or none at all.

"We have a defendant who successfully fled and changed her identity," Deputy District Attorney Michael Latin said.

But Jordan said reports that Soliah could be charged in connection with the holdup are misleading.

"He doesn't tell you that the grand jury has twice declined to indict her," she said.

Her lawyers say the state has a weak case on the explosives charges. The sole prosecution witness linking Soliah to the attempted bombing died five years ago, and her attorneys say there is no physical evidence linking their client to the explosives.

Her defense will ask the judge to set bail at $150,000 or less because she has lived the life of a community pillar in Minnesota.

Her arrest came shortly after the airing of an episode of "America's Most Wanted" marking the 25-year anniversary of a fiery shootout between the Los Angeles Police Department and the SLA. Six SLA members died in the gun battle.

Former SLA member waives extradition to face California charges
July 8, 1999
California seeks return of alleged SLA member
July 1, 1999
'70s fugitive in court today
June 17, 1999
FBI has 'hot leads' on last SLA fugitive
June 17, 1999
Police nab fugitive from group that kidnapped Patty Hearst
June 16, 1999

SLA Report
A Look at the SLA
The Patricia Campbell Hearst Page
The Patty Hearst Page
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