By Virginia McCullough and Kate Dixon © 2001



On Tuesday, November 6, 2001 at 1:30 p.m., Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Larry Paul Fidler, will conduct a hearing to determine the validity of the guilty plea entered by  Sara Jane Olson nee Kathleen Soliah, the alleged Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA) domestic terrorist. "The purpose of it [the hearing]  is to inquire into the validity of the plea given Sara Jane Olson's comments out in the hallway after pleading guilty in the courtroom," said Kyle Christopherson, a spokesman for the Los Angeles County courts. The plea and the subsequent comments were made on Thursday, November 1, 2001.


Judge Fidler will meet with the parties privately at 1:30 p.m., and may or may not conduct a public hearing. If the plea is set aside, Olson's trial will go forward as previously planned in December 2001.


Olson’s potential trial and her plea have been profoundly affected by the terrorist blitzkrieg of 9/11/01 and by the country's response to that event. The word 'terrorism' has taken on a whole new and ominous meaning.    However, the impact of  'terrorism' on the Olson case has been building for years – before 9/11/01 occurred.  How the courts and the law treat the Olson case will truly determine how free the citizens of the United States are in the years to come.  The question arises: Will the Constitution or the terrorists dictate the law of the land? 


The Olson case is a trip into the era of vehement protests against the Vietnam War,  the killing of civil rights leaders, the hippie-counterculture, dissent and the crackdown on dissent. On May 17, 1974, six members of the SLA were killed in a shootout with police in Los Angeles. On June 2, 1974, Olson, then Kathleen Soliah, gave a eulogy in Berkeley for the six dead members of the SLA. On August 21, 1975,two bombs were discovered planted under Los Angeles police squad cars, allegedly in retaliation for the cremation deaths of the SLA members.  On February 26, 1976, Olson was secretly indicted for these attacks in Los Angeles County Superior Court In May 1999 America's Most Wanted ran a segment on Kathleen Soliah and James Kilgore, another alleged ex-SLA member, on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the SLA shootout.  On June 16, 1999, leading an upper middle class soccer mom existence, and married to an emergency room physician, Olson was arrested in Saint Paul, Minnesota.  The police claimed the arrest was the result of a tip from an “A Most Wanted” viewer Click. 


The SLA was created in the early 1970’s by Donald DeFreeze, a prisoner who graduated from Colton Westbrook’s psychiatric program at Vacaville Prison.


Twenty five years later, the Los Angeles District Attorney, in his case against Olson, presents a case alleging that several violent, demented individuals set up the SLA and engaged in domestic terror and attempted murder. But there is more to the SLA story.  In 1974, as the SLA’s kidnap of Patty Hearst suddenly became international news, Mae Brussell detailed the FBI and intelligence connections to the SLA’s domestic terrorists. Click.


In 1974, when Mae Brussell was asked who or what is the SLA, and why did they kidnap Patricia Hearst, she replied:

The script from the very beginning was to have the nice, rich,  white princess kidnapped by the mean,  black prison "escapees"; to drag out the scenario until the whole nation was involved with Patty's fate; and then to sacrifice her.  Donald DeFreeze and Thero Wheeler would be the patsies. DeFreeze would be the main patsy: the first black Lee Harvey Oswald. He would wind up dead, or in jail, silenced, like Sirhan Sirhan, Jack Ruby, Lee Harvey Oswald, James Earl Ray, Arthur Bremer, and many other patsies. The intelligence agencies behind the plot didn't plan that Patty Hearst, Donald DeFreeze, and Thero Wheeler would survive and tell their story. The whole plot for the paramilitary take-over of the United States might come out in the open if the truth is revealed about this kidnapping.


On the other hand, if the plan to assassinate Patty Hearst IS carried out, the military intelligence agencies will be stuck with something around their necks that could be just as difficult to cover up as the truth about the Kennedy assassination.  Evidence of a high-level conspiracy will keep cropping up, again and again, and many more people will be murdered. Since the Watergate story began to emerge, some people have become more sophisticated, and more suspicious. They know they have been lied to by people at the highest level of our government. Click.  

In May 1999, America's Most Wanted posted a $20,000 reward on television for the arrest of Kathleen Soliah and James Kilgore. On June 16, 1999, Olson was arrested. Olson was released on $1 million bail, and legal proceedings commenced in the Superior Court in Los Angeles. Olson was charged with two counts of conspiracy to commit attempted murder by use of pipe bombs, three counts of  possessing pipe bombs and two counts of attempting to explode pipe bombs.   James Kilgore is named in the Olson indictment as a co-conspirator.  Emily and William Harris are named as unindicted co-conspirators.  James Kilgore, Olson’s former boyfriend, remains a FBI most wanted fugitive.  Emily Harris is now a computer consultant in Los Angeles, and William Harris is an investigator working for lawyers in San Francisco.  The Harrises are now divorced.    

After making a plea deal with then Alameda County District Attorney D. Lowell Jensen,  Emily and William Harris were sentenced by the Alameda County Superior Court to 10 years in prison in 1977 for abducting Patty Hearst and for a string of crimes leading up to the Los Angeles shootout.  They were released from prison in 1983.    The case against Olson began as a case of conspiracy to attempt to  murder police officers with pipe bombs (which did not explode).  However, in October 1999, the Olson case escalated to a “domestic terrorist” case, when the Los Angeles D.A. alleged Olson engaged in a conspiracy with a revolutionary group, the SLA, to overthrow the United States by acts of terrorist violence.  The scope of the alleged crimes widened far beyond the alleged bombing of police officers, to an attack against the entire country.   

The guilty plea Olson entered, which will be tested by Judge Fidler to determine its validity on November 6, was a plea to two felony counts of possessing explosive devices with intent to murder police officers.  Judge Fidler may shun a public hearing and conduct a  secret “chambers” discussion about the plea with the parties of interest.  Does the public have a right to know, in a public hearing,  whether or not Olson’s guilty plea is, in fact, valid?  Is it constitutional?  Isn't it ironic that the court and legal authorities crafted the Olson case into the first domestic-terrorist, show-case trial, well in advance of 9/11/01?


On November 1,  2001 Olson did, in fact, plead guilty to two felony counts of possessing explosive devices with intent to murder police officers. In return for her plea, prosecutors dismissed a count of conspiracy to commit murder and two explosives counts. Olson signed a plea agreement stating she "is pleading guilty because she is in truth and in fact guilty" to the charges.  Deputy D.A. Eleanor Hunter asked Olson in open court: “'Are you pleading guilty because you are in truth and in fact guilty, and do you stipulate that there is a factual basis for the guilty plea?”  Olson replied, 'Yes.'


In taking her plea, Judge Fidler led Olson through a series of questions to insure that she understood her plea and entered it voluntarily and without coercion.  She answered these questions  to Judge Fidler’s satisfaction.  He approved the plea and set the sentencing date – December 17, 2001, and the date for Olson’s surrender to prison – January 8, 2002.


But the terror of 9/11/01 twisted the law deeply in Olson’s case.  Olson exploded in a stream of consciousness to the world. Immediately after pleading guilty, in the courthouse hallway, Olson stated to reporters:

 "I'm pleading guilty to something to which I'm not guilty."   

"It became clear to me that the incident (the September 11 terrorist attacks) would have a remarkable effect on the outcome of this trial and I think that it's unfortunate, but the effect was probably going to be negative.".

"Given that law enforcement has risen in credibility, it was inevitably going to play in the minds of jurors."

"That's really what governed this decision, not the truth or honesty, but what was probably in my best interests and the interests of my family."


"I now have a good stab at reunion with my family before I am 80 years old."


"I'm still the same person I was then. I believe in democracy for all people."


 "I don't have any regrets."


Olson also told reporters that her lawyers advised her that her chances of a lesser sentence would be better if she pleaded guilty.


Olson’s statements blew away the Los Angeles D.A.’s triumph of proving, after a twenty-five year quest, that a domestic terrorist Olson was, in fact, guilty of  conspiring to overthrow the U.S. by acts of revolutionary terrorist  violence.  The guilty plea, which law enforcement yearned for, had become a distorted victim of the panic following the terrorist attack of  9/11/01. 


Judge Fidler, reportedly angry, without any motion by any party, scheduled an unprecedented hearing to examine Olson’s plea.  However, the law has virtually tied up Judge Fidler’s angry gavel.  In 1970, the California Supreme Court, in People v. West (1970), ruled that defendants can enter guilty pleas while maintaining their innocence, as long as there is evidence to support a guilty verdict.  In that case, Dale I. West entered into a plea bargain after a trial judge refused to suppress incriminating evidence in a marijuana possession case. Under a deal worked out with the prosecution, West pleaded no contest to opening or maintaining a place for selling or using narcotics. He then appealed the conviction. The Supreme Court ruled that defendants maintaining their innocence can plead guilty if the evidence could lead to a guilty verdict.  Why is Judge Fidler so anxious to prove the validity of Olson’s plea?  After all, convicts all over the world from, the local DUI court to Vacaville to the Hague,  proclaim their innocence all the time despite guilty pleas?


The terrorism of 9/11/01 made the Olson case twist in its bizarre and cruel winds.  Now the law itself may twist and turn.




Olson actually pled guilty blind -- or rather deaf, dumb and blind.


When Olson entered her guilty plea, she had no guarantee that she would receive any sentence less than life in prison.  Olson’s written plea agreement with the Los Angeles D.A. indicates Olson can receive consecutive sentences of at least 10 years on each of the two guilty counts.  The agreement does permit her incarceration in a Minnesota prison near her family. Click.

In fact, Olson is due to be formally sentenced to 20 years to life in prison on December 7, 2001,  if her plea is not set aside. She will surrender to prison on January 18, 2002.  Olson apparently relied on her attorneys’, Tony Serra, et al's opinion that the state Board of Prison Terms would mandate she be eligible for parole after serving just over five years in prison.


However, in plea discussions, the Los Angeles D.A. insisted that Olson clearly understand the Board of Prisons is authorized by law to decide whether or not it should hold a hearing to determine if she is a danger to society and should get more than the five years.


When Olson made her plea, Deputy D.A. Michael Latin stated he didn't want Olson to base her plea on her attorneys' advice that she would receive more than five years only if "some extraordinary action" occurred. Olson interjected at that point to say that she was indeed basing her plea on such advice.


Judge Fidler quickly warned Olson that she still could spend the rest of her life in prison despite her attorneys' assurances.

"I will be the one to tell you they may be wrong," Fidler said. "They may be right. They may be wrong."

Fidler made it clear to Olson, despite her plea, he could sentence her to life on December 7, 2001

Isn’t it obvious to Olson that there is no guarantee at all that the parole board will release her in five years?  Moreover, Olson’s protestations of innocence mar her parole possibilities. Parole boards grant parole more often to those whose mea culpas are loud, clear and consistent—acknowledgement of guilt being a component of prison rehabilitation.

Are Olson’s attorneys, who advised her to make a speculative guilty plea, just a bunch of dump-truck lawyers, fearing the effect of the 9/11/01 blitzkrieg more than they love the law and the constitution? Prior to the 9/11/01 terrorist attack, Olson’s lawyers talked to reporters about the case.  After 9/11/01 they fell silent.  Reporter Peter Byrne reported in the San Francisco Weekly on September 19, 2001 that  in an interview prior to the 911 blitzkrieg attacks,  Olson’s famous and infamous lawyer, Tony Serra, aka “The Legend”, was ready to roar into the jury trial:

"The Olson case is the last large criminal trial of the '60s; part of my destiny," Serra said. "What's sad about it is that the SLA doesn't represent the '60s, they weren't popular."


Admitting that Olson was intimately associated with the SLA, Serra contended the prosecution is using this fact to inflame the jury against her. Then he grinned, shark like, "I anticipate cross-examining Patricia Hearst with great relish," he said. "She's filled with contradiction, filled with self-motivation. She's under the domination of law enforcement. She seeks always to be approved by [male] authority images. That's her personality defect, which borders on a psychiatric condition."


Serra went on to denounce the misuse of state and federal conspiracy laws designed to trap the "Mr. Bigs" of drug dealing and other organized crime. People do not realize, he mused, that these same laws can be used for political ends, for repression of people's rights.  "Conspiracy charges are on the rise. In the last 25 years, law enforcement in this country has grown extremely powerful. We have more secret police than the KGB in Russia. We have a sea of informants out there: reliable informants, confidential informants, participatory informants, percipient informants, material informants, leniency informants, paid informants, arrested informants, sources-of-information informants, anonymous informants. We may be moving toward a totalitarian state."


Serra's sonorous voice bounced off the walls.  "Our basic freedoms have shrunk as a consequence of the strength of law enforcement, and therefore, this is a case that they will never give up. They want to fry her. She represents the SLA, and the SLA represented domestic terrorism, and terrorism is the emotional logo behind which law enforcement gains resources and power."


Serra summarized his basic belief about the system of law in a capitalist society. "We are brainwashed into believing that the law is equally applied; the same for the rich as for the poor. I say law serves the dominating class; law is to keep the have-nots in that category. The majority of people in this country are not civilized and not sophisticated. The litmus test of civilization is the death penalty."


"I still believe in the jury system, though," he said. "The jury might see [the Olson prosecution] as political, ideological warfare, and we may get the benefit of the doubt."

Peter Byrne also reported:


But that was what Serra said about the Olson case before the tragic events of Sept. 11, 2001. Subsequently, he did not return phone calls requesting further comment. Click. 


What on earth were Olson’s attorneys thinking when they permitted her to enter into a guilty plea with no sentencing guarantees?


In addition to appearing to be out of the loop as to what her sentence will actually be, Olson also faces a potential first-degree murder charge in the death of Myrna Opsahl during the course of an alleged SLA robbery in Carmichal, California.  Olson’s plea before Fidler did not resolve that case, yet it is very possible that her plea could have included such a resolution.


The Star Tribune reported on November 2, 2001:

“After Olson pleaded guilty, Sacramento County District Attorney Jan Scully said her office is still conducting 'an independent review' of the bank robbery. Scully said Olson's plea "doesn't change the direction we're going. I'm glad she was held accountable down there. But we still have a murder here that we're going to determine whether to go forward on."


Bank customer Myrna Opsahl was fatally shot during the robbery. Backed by Los Angeles prosecutors, her son, Jon, has been pushing for Olson to be prosecuted in the crime. Jon Opsahl said Olson's insistence on Wednesday that she's innocent made him "nauseous."


Shawn Snider Chapman, stated: “She wanted to go to trial…but everybody who cared about her was telling her, "You can't risk getting life in prison." Click.

The prospect of the Opsahl murder charges being filed against Olson looms large.  Conviction in that case will made easier, if Olson’s guilty plea to two serious felonies is not set aside by Judge Fidler, and these felonies are introduced to impeach Olson and as evidence of Olson’s propensity to murder before a Sacramento County jury. What did Tony “The Legend” Serra and Shawn Chapman say about their client’s unusual guilty plea? On November 2, 2001, The New York Times reported. 

Tony Serra, one of her lawyers, said Ms. Olson's comments after the plea had been "inartful" but essentially correct. "She was factually innocent, but there was a legal basis for her guilt." Asked what that meant, Serra stated even her limited connection with some members of the radical group had made her vulnerable to the charges. Click.


On November 1, 2001, The Los Angeles Times reported:


Defense attorney Shawn Chapman  [of Tony Serra's office] said Thursday that she does not know what to expect at the unusual court session next week.

She says that Olson, in proclaiming her innocence, was trying to explain that she was not the one who planted bombs beneath police cars. Rather, she only admitted in her plea, that she had acted to "encourage, endorse, or incite" the bombing attempt, Chapman said.

The defense attorney said her client has the right to say whatever she wants to say in public. "The prisons are filled with people proclaiming their innocence," Chapman said.

Chapman said Olson agreed to a guilty plea because it was in her best interest and she believed it avoided the risk of receiving a life sentence in prison IF a jury convicted her. She preferred to plead no contest to the charges, Chapman said, but the district attorney's office demanded a guilty plea.


"Sara Jane Olson is truly a victim of September 11, 2001" said defense attorney J. Tony Serra. "We didn't have a level playing field. They have brandished about the term of "domestic terrorism."


On November 2, 2001, The National Post reported that Serra said:


"She didn't do it. We engaged in a pragmatic course. We could not get a fair trial under the conditions," he said. "She was being labeled a domestic terrorist --- we couldn't get a fair trial, so... we did what we believed was the only rational course."


Her lawyers said the decision to go for a plea bargain was made after the prosecution filed a request evoking the "T" word last week, asking to have the SLA considered a terrorist organization.

This made Olson a "victim of Sept.11, 2001, we would never have got a fair trial in the climate of anger and fear following last month's attacks in New York and Washington," said lawyer Tony Serra.



With lawyers Serra and Chapman pleading Olson into the Big House for a potential life sentence, despite her having a potential murder charge still hanging out there in Sacramento, the Los Angeles D.A. almost slept soundly, content with his victory over a domestic “terrorist”.


So, why doesn’t Judge Fidler simply forget the little problem that Olson, after pleading guilty, now asserts

her innocence.  Hasn’t 'his honor' ever heard of a convict crying that he or she is as innocent as a baby?


Will the Olson case set precedents in the prosecution of “domestic terrorists"?  Dramatically - and with appropriate fear and loathing - the Olson case built up over the past two years into the  first domestic terrorist show-trial of the 21st century. 


Over a year before 9/11/01, in October 1999, the Olson case became primarily a “domestic terrorist case” because of FOUR SCARY LEGAL MANEUVERS implemented by the L.A. District Attorney. 


Number 1: The crime of attempting to blow up two police squad cars and murder police officers was transformed into the crime of  a conspiracy to overthrow the United States of America.


In his October 22, 1999 preliminary trial brief, the Los Angeles D.A. made it clear that Olson’s trial would be a trial of a defendant who was part of a terrorist organization, the SLA, which intended to overthrow the U.S. government by violence. The D.A.’s brief stated, in part (pages 4-5):


“By it's brutal assassination of Oakland’s first black Superintendent (Dr. Marcus Foster), and its brazen “shoot -on-sight” order, the lines of demarcation were clearly drawn. The SLA was not like the other protest groups , which held rallies and protested government action through peaceful demonstrations.  This small, but potent, collection of self-described “revolutionaries” joined together with the common purpose of effecting change by terrorizing, kidnapping and murdering innocent people based on their employment, social-economic status or political positions.  The SLA acted purposefully and with blatant disregard for innocent bystanders who happened to be in their way.


The Marcus Foster murder was a defining event for the SLA members.  With that action and the issuance of communiqué number one, they literally declared revolutionary war upon the government and the “enemy, rich ruling class”.  In their eyes, the assassination was the commencement of the SLA’s use of guerilla warfare to achieve change.  Through their use of the media, the public knew, as well as the SLA conspirators themselves, that violence was the group’s calling card.  Over the next two years, those who “enlisted” in the SLA, rather than in other radical political organizations, deliberately chose violence as their weapon for revolution.  Those, like the defendant, who joined the SLA, did so because they chose to part ways with their radical counterparts who were trying to effect change through public speeches, demonstrations, protests, and even attention-getting acts of property destruction.  Over the ensuing months, those who disagreed  with the SLA left the group voluntarily or were banished with the threat of reprisal. Click. [pdf Acrobat reader file].


The Los Angeles D.A. chose to emphasize “conspiracy”, thus making it necessary to prove only that Olson had knowledge of the plot to plant the deadly pipe bombs and failed to stop it.  Thus, Olson herself need not be proven guilty of actually attaching the deadly pipes and clothespin triggers to the undercarriage of the police cars with magnets and a fishing line.  The statements and conduct of Olson showed she intended to work with the SLA  to  overthrow the U.S. government and that could be used at trial to prove she conspired to attempt to murder with the pipe bombs on two occasions.


Early in the Olson case, her lawyers told the press they would defend Olson by arguing that, even though she had certain political beliefs, and helped the SLA, she did not uphold their ideology of violence; therefore she was innocent of conspiring to commit murder and possessing explosives.  After 9/11/01 Olson’s lawyers changed their arguments, or rather dumped them.


Number 2: Over twenty uncharged crimes and illegal incidents committed by the SLA were ordered into evidence at the trial. 

On October 27, 1999, the Los Angeles DA moved to include evidence of all SLA-related crimes in the trial, and Judge Ideman so ordered. The scope of the trial broadened to include the entire history of the SLA and evidence related to two dozen uncharged criminal acts.  The prosecution posited that Olson’s alleged "crimes were an important part of a series of revolutionary assaults, designed to bring strength and respect to the SLA and further their goal of leading the country into a full-scale revolutionary war." Olson’s lawyer, Shawn Chapman stated, “Through this allegation of a broad, amorphous, uncharged conspiracy to wage a revolutionary war and/or commit treason that the prosecution intends to bring in all criminal acts--charged or uncharged--ever remotely associated in fact or fiction with the Symbionese Liberation Army."

 Los Angeles Deputy D.A. Michael Latin said during the hearing "We're introducing evidence of her involvement in a series of events that demonstrate grave violence, a hardened heart".     

The Los Angeles Times of September 19, 2000 reported: 

The defense contends that testimony about the SLA's violent background would confuse and prejudice jurors. They accused prosecutors of trying to "salvage" a weak case by putting the SLA's entire history on trial. The disputed crimes, about two dozen of them, include the murder of an African American school superintendent in Oakland, the kidnapping of newspaper heiress Patricia Hearst and several bank robberies. But prosecutors, responding Monday, said Hearst is expected to be a key witness at Olson's trial, which is scheduled to begin in January. The evidence of other SLA crimes is needed to corroborate Hearst's story, Deputy Dist. Attys. George M. Palmer and Patrick D. Moran wrote in a 25-page brief.

Because of the Court’s order expanding the scope of the evidence to be introduced at trial, Patty Hearst would become the prosecution's chief witness.  Hearst's sentence was commuted by President Carter after she served two years in prison, and she was recently pardoned by President Clinton.  Hearst, although she claimed her reluctance to do so, would testify about incident after incident of Olson’s participation in SLA activities.  More importantly, Hearst would testify Olson was present when Emily Harris allegedly pulled the trigger and killed Myrna Opsahl at the Carmichal Bank in 1974.  Hearst also would testify William Harris and James Kilgore,  participated in the crime.  Recent evidence has shown Hearst, in fact, was cooperating with the authorities immediately after being taken into custody after eluding the FBI for twenty months.  It appears that although Hearst and the authorities hid the fact, during her trial, Hearst was an informant all along. Click.

The Court of Appeals denied Olson's challenge to the order expanding the scope of the trial. (Note: Judge Ideman was removed from the Olson case without explanation in April 2000, and Judge Fidler was assigned to the case.)  On February 23, 2001, Judge Fidler upheld Judge Ideman's prior order allowing evidence about the SLA's alleged crimes to be introduced at trial.  However, Judge Fidler, realizing that almost the entire history of the SLA would be put on trial, encouraged the prosecution and defense to negotiate to reduce the length of the trial.  The effect of Judge Fidler's order was that instead of facing a simple case of attempted bombing, Olson would have to defend against a sprawling case with tens of thousands of pages of evidence and more than 100 witnesses.

A major lesson taught by the first domestic terror show case trial of the 21st century is that if  a person is associated with any person(s) or event(s) which are part of a pattern of a group's activities that result in any crime, the person can be subjected to an avalanche of evidence about the group's activities.  The accused may have had no knowledge at all about these activities.  Terrorism has virtually eliminated the legal prohibition against finding guilt by association.

Number 3: Olson's lawyers made a half-baked attempt to continue the trial for about seventy days in light of potential juror bias caused by the 9/11/01 terrorist attacks.

On October 4, 2001, Olson's attorneys filed a motion to continue jury selection to January 3, 2001.  Attorney Chapman stated:

In light of the tragic events of September 11, 2001, it is my belief that it will be difficult, if not impossible, for my client, Sara Jane Olson, to get a fair trial by jury.  I am informed and believe that my co-counsel, J. Tony Serra, shares in this belief.

I am further informed and believe that recent trials across the nation with issues similar to those of the herein action have been routinely continued because prospective jurors have expressed their inability to be fair in such cases.  I am informed and believe that, in many instances, the Court itself has granted such continuances, even prior to questioning prospective jurors, for the same reasons.

In light of these concerns and because we believe that the passage of time and the diversions created by the holiday season will lessen the impact of the events of September 11, 2001, we are respectfully requesting that jury selection begin on January 3, 2001.

On October 5, 2001, the Los Angeles D.A. filed an opposition to Olson's motion for a continuance, and he stated: "No facts are offered to support that speculative belief [of the defense that Olson can't get a fair trial]."

In fact, Olson's attorneys had presented no poll of potential Los Angeles jurors, any expert opinions, local newspaper articles or affidavits from attorneys in other cases to support their beliefs.  The D.A.'s brief went on to outline their faith in the court's ability to empanel an impartial jury, irrespective of the terrorist events of 9/11/01.  True to form the Los Angeles D.A. wanted the first domestic terror trial of the 21st century to be held in an atmosphere of national terror. Click. [PDF file, requires Adobe Reader.]


In a "theatre of the absurd" move, the Olson defense team sought a continuance of the trial from October 2001 to only January 3, 2002 – a continuance of about seventy days.  According to Olson’s lawyers, the Christmas season would to have an ameliorative effect on the atmosphere of terror in America.  One wonders why Judge Fidler did not grant such a brief continuance of only approximately seventy days in a trial of such major importance and complexity, if, for no other reason, but to avoid issues on appeal.  After all, trials are frequently continued to accommodate such matters as attorneys’ dental appointments and Judge’s vacations. 


Judge Fidler firmly denied the brief trial continuance.  The Los Angeles Times of October 15, 2001, reported:

"The meter has tripped on this trial," Superior Court Judge Larry Paul Fidler said. "We are now engaged in trial."  

"The judge, however, held out the option of reconsidering his decision.  "Certainly one of the issues to be addressed is how the events of Sept. 11 affected jurors," the judge said. "If we see a pattern developing, we will have to rethink whether this case can move forward. Right now I can't see any reason that it can't begin." 

Co-counsel J. Tony Serra filed an affidavit saying jurors in his recent cases have shown pro-police bias and an unprecedented "psychological bonding" with police.  

"Some jurors plainly state that they will not judge police officers by the same standards of credibility as ordinary citizens," he said. The Olson defense plans to attack the credibility of police and FBI agents in her case. 

One of the lessons taught by the Olson case taught is that publicity about terror attacks in the news at the time of trial, will not be held by the courts to impair a defendant’s right to a fair trial, when he is charged with being a “domestic terrorist”. 

Number 4: The court left open the door for the prosecution to introduce evidence and arguments that the defendant’s guilt could be determined by referring to her involvement in a group defined as a “terrorist organization”.


On October 24, 2001, the Los Angeles D.A. took a giant step toward making the Olson case the first show case trial of a “domestic terrorist” in the 21st Century. The D.A. requested the court make a pre-trial ruling that the jury could be told the SLA is recognized as a “terrorist organization that posed a threat to public safety and engaged in violent activity.”


Olson’s attorney Chapman argued the term "terrorism" should not be used in connection with the SLA during Olson’s trial.  "This is a very dangerous and sensitive time in which we're litigating the case," she said. "The [prosecutors] are going too far."


Judge Fidler refused to make a pre-trial order recognizing the SLA as a “terrorist organization”.  However, the use of the “T word” did not end with Judge Fidler’s ruling.  The insistence by prosecutors that the SLA was a terrorist organization continued to be a focus of bitter legal battles about whether the D.A. could use the words “terror” and “terrorist organization” during the trial to cross-examine witnesses, to argue and to sway the jury.  The issue was not resolved by Judge Fidler when the two sides entered into two hours of secret plea talks which led to Olson’s guilty plea.


Were the four scary legal maneuvers so deft, clever and utterly terrifying that Olson felt she should plead guilty to a potential life sentence, with a faint hope of a Parole Board’s mercy, rather than face trial and a potential life sentence anyway?  Olson and the defense attorneys stated to the press that the fear of  use of the T word was the factor which lead to the guilty plea. However, Olson may have her own private reasons for entering her highly unusual guilty plea.




Does Olson fear something more than she fears potentially going to prison for life? Olson is obviously concerned about what evidence might surface during the mammoth trial which would set forth the entire history of the SLA and all its crimes, charged and uncharged.


To some people, there are things worse than life in prison such as (1) execution after a death sentence,  (2) being tortured or killed in prison by an inmate (a pathetic reality), or  (3) seeing a loved one prosecuted, harmed or killed.  Which is it, in the matter of Sarah Jane Olson, nee Kathleen Soliah?


Olson could  have walked away from any prison sentence, had she agreed to be a confidential informant against other SLA members, such as James Kilgore,  now a fugitive charged in the Opsahl murder and/or Emily Harris and William Harris, who were unindicted co-conspirators in the case against Olson.  Significantly, Patty Hearst is poised to testify that Emily Harris pulled the trigger that killed Myrna Opsahl.  The Opsahl murder was one of the incidents of uncharged conduct which the Los Angeles D.A. intended to introduce at trial to show Olson was part of a revolutionary group, the SLA, which conspired to overthrow the United States government.  Were there other SLA members who walked away, whom Olson could have implicated if she had turned into a snitch?


In her groundbreaking article, “Why was Patricia Hearst kidnapped?” Mae Brussell identified many SLA members who disappeared.  Mae pointed out that intelligence agents who set up many of the SLA’s activities and who made it an organization of provocateurs were never investigated, let alone prosecuted.  Click.


If Olson had gone to trial, it would have been impossible to stop at least some information leaking out about the culpability of others regarding the SLA’s creation and its crimes.


The San Francisco Weekly, of September 19, 2001,  reported the details of Olson’s opportunity to walk away with no prison time, had she become a government informant:


During the years that Olson was a fugitive, her representatives tried, periodically, to negotiate a deal in which she would surrender and plead guilty to a charge or charges, but not go to prison. When she was finally caught, a deal was proffered, Hanlon said.  "The [L.A.] district attorney said that if Sara cooperated, the prosecution would disappear," Hanlon recounted. In a decision that may now seem horribly and ironically wrongheaded, Olson, charged with conspiring to commit murder, possession of a destructive device, and attempted explosion of a destructive device with intent to murder, resolved to take her chances with a jury. In October 1999, the district attorney upped the stakes by broadening the scope of the trial to include the entire history of the SLA and evidence related to two dozen uncharged criminal acts. It is this horrific history of terrorism that Hanlon, Serra, and the third, much younger member of the legal team, Shawn Chapman, must obscure or distance Olson from if she is to be kept from prison. Click.

Why didn’t Olson take the deal and snitch her way to freedom?  After all, she has a husband, three children, and parents who all have stood behind her throughout her ordeal? Did the dangers of being a snitch outweigh the need for freedom?  Did  Olson fear the death penalty in a potential case against her in Sacramento, if she went to trial in Los Angeles, if evidence about her involvement in Opsahl’s murder surfaced?


After Olson’s guilty plea, the Sacramento D.A. said Olson remains under investigation for the Carmichael bank robbery that left Myrna Opsahl dead.  Despite several investigations and two failed indictments, no one was ever successfully prosecuted for the 1975 Sacramento bank robbery and murder. Evidence unearthed during the Los Angeles trial could have improved the case against Opsahl’s alleged murderers.  Olson has denied participating in the robbery. However, former SLA member Hearst, in a 1982 book about her kidnapping and time with the SLA, placed Olson at the robbery scene and said SLA member Emily Harris fired the shot that killed Opsahl. A son of the victim, Dr. Jon Opsahl, called the lack of prosecution so far an "atrocity."


Olson may not have looked forward to going to trial in Los Angeles to face the possibility that crimes against  her associates, John Kilgore, Emily Harris and William Harris, could be proved to the degree that their prosecution would be inevitable.


Looking deep into Olson’s past associations with the SLA may reveal some of her motivation in pleading guilty.  It was Angela Atwood, one of the six SLA members who died in the Los Angeles house fire, who drafted Olson into the SLA when they both lived in Berkeley.  But it was Emily Harris, a leader of the SLA, who with her husband, William, hid Patricia Hearst away from the FBI for 20 months, who was Olson’s closest ally, if not her mentor or controller.


Olson assisted Emily Harris in hiding Patty Hearst and evading law enforcement. Two days after the Los Angeles house fire which killed six SLA members, Emily and William Harris fled to Berkeley and found Olson, then known as Kathy Soliah.  In their book “Voices of Guns” , Paul Avery and Vin McLellan, reported:

Two days after that [the cremation of SLA members] they had found Kathy Soliah. It would have been difficult to miss her. A memorial rally for the SLA was held in Berkeley's Ho Chi Minh Park on June 2 (1974). The rally was small by Berkeley standards about 400 (50?) people, many there just out of curiosity. The notable absence of any California leftist luminaries, with the single exception being Wilbur "Popeye" Jackson, leader of the United Prisoner Union, reflected the critical and mixed emotions with which the left and even Berkeley viewed the SLA, even in the common outrage over police tactics in Los Angeles.  Jackson lambasted the "armchair revolutionaries" who scorned the SLA, but even Kathy Soliah, in the most impassioned speech to the crowd, bespoke the ambivalence.  She had watched, she said, unknowing, as Angela became Gelina: "When I first met her she wasn't very political, but she was always on the right side." They had lost touch the winter before Kathy had returned from a Mexico vacation to discover Angela on the run and the SLA in the headlines.  A lot was happening that she could not understand. "There were many times when I wanted to talk to her and ask her what the hell was going on with her and the SLA. Certainly there were times when I felt they made serious mistakes and should have connected more with the people they were supposedly fighting for." Still, she argued, Angela, Camilla, Mizmoon, and Nancy Perry were "among the first white women to fight so righteously for their beliefs and to die for what they believed in".


"I believe that Angela was a truly revolutionary woman," she said. "And the amazing thing is that she and her women comrade: came from the same background as many of us here. They were white middle-class people with a lot of advantages who had gotten into the women's struggle and then generalized that struggle to include all people." The TV cameras panned the crowd, then zoomed in on Soliah at the microphone as she roused the crowd with a chanted salute. "To Bill, to Emily, to Tania", she cried, "Keep fighting! I'm with you! We're with you!" Kathleen Soliah had been the prime mover in organizing the Berkeley memorial, and she had already begun to gather another group, which would call itself the Bay Area Research Collective, a pro-SLA propaganda group to republish the SLA communiqués and drum up radical support for the fugitive underground. (The organizing leaflet for BARC also suggested, rather belatedly, that they might research Marcus Foster in an attempt to justify his assassination.) Soliah had virtually enlisted in the SLA before the TV cameras, and if she was not an uncritical acolyte, her speech had rather precisely captured the egocentricity that had infused the original SLA. The possibility that Kathy Soliah would become helpmate to the SLA was apparently so obvious (particularly after the SLA rally), it was considered unlikely. Like the proverbial butler, Kathy Soliah was too prominent thought police, too public, to be in direct contact with the fugitives. By any logic it was true, but Yolanda, Teko, and Tania, destitute and desperate, had nowhere else to go. It was apparently a day or so after the memorial rally that Emily Harris contacted Kathy Soliah.


Steve Soliah, Kathy's brother himself a key figure in the SLA renaissance four months later said   Emily appeared at his sister's home one evening, alone, uninvited, unannounced. But she surely didn't have to introduce herself. (Kathy's name and phone number were in Emily's address book left behind for police to find when the Harrises went hurriedly underground.) It was like a lost spider finding a web weaver. While Soliah had never been politically "heavy," never more than a follower on the fringe, she had access to everything the SLA had always lacked: contacts, resources, experience. Perhaps only now, in the aftermath of Los Angeles, was it available for an SLA connection, but upon through Kathy Soliah, there was a tight and effective network of friends mobilized to save the SLA. 

Did Olson ever forget Emily Harris?  Is Emily Harris the key to Olson’s guilty plea, and perhaps the key to her affirmation of innocence despite that plea?  

Olson’s initial trial attorney in the Los Angeles case, was Susan Jordan who had been Emily Harris's lawyer a quarter century ago. (Jordan withdrew from Olson’s case for health reasons.)  In 1999, prosecutors floated some kind of deal with Soliah after her arrest on the pipe bomb charges in exchange for cooperation on the Opsahl murder. Emily Harris is the alleged trigger person in that murder according to Patty Hearst. Soliah refused the deal.


When Olson and her husband Fred Peterson brought their firstborn into the world, they chose to name her Emily.  It goes without saying, that most parents carefully select the name of their first-born child and bestow it with affection and honor.


Mae Brussell in her article, “Why Was Patty Heart Kidnapped?” explained the network of intelligence, police and provocateur connections surrounding Emily and William Harris Click.:

Emily Harris, alias Anna Lindenberg, Yolanda

Daughter of a wealthy consulting engineer, from Illinois suburbs.  

B.A., University of Indiana, language arts.  

Training: CIA think tank, College of Foreign Affairs, University of Indiana, Bloomington.  

Worked with William Harris and Angela Atwood in "mod squad," setting up narcotics arrests for the Intelligence Division, Indiana State Police.  

When the Harrises' apartment was vacated, among the names left in an address book was Tim Casey, from Orange County. Emily and Tim dated during the summers of 1967 and '68 while she was working in California at Disneyland Hotel. Were there any links between two clients of J. Walter Thompson Advertising Agency -- Disneyland Hotel and the San Francisco Police Department?  

Was Emily in touch with espionage agents from Orange County?  

Described as "cold, intelligent, the strength of the family; had leadership ability."

Moved to Oakland late 1972, with the Atwoods.  

Employed as clerk-typist, Survey Research Center, "polling office", at University of California.  

Not in politics in Indiana; never involved in radical movements. On moving to California, immediately joined Chino Defense Committee, an offshoot of Marxist-Leninist Venceremos organization. Worked to aid members accused of a prison break; wrote letters on their behalf. Visited prison inmates Doc Holiday and Barren Broadnax, who had long been targets of the prison system and Attorney General Evelle Younger. She traveled several hundred miles from Oakland to San Luis Obispo each week to make these prison visits. At the time, the Black Guerrilla Family and the Chino Defense Fund were filled with infiltrators and agents provocateurs.  

Emily's last prison visit was January 10, 1974, the day Remiro and Little were arrested.

It is not clear why the Harrises left Bloomington. They had "toyed" with politics and posed in the school annual with Bill jokingly holding a book entitled "About Communism", but they were not into radical politics.  

Cover story to the effect that "underemployment radicalized middle-class America" has no basis in fact. Underemployment is consistent with clandestine assignments.  

Through her work, Emily Harris allegedly had access to Patty Hearst's school schedule. Denials merely indicate that investigation should proceed on this matter. Remember Watergate denials?  

The Harris' apartment in Oakland was modern, well-furnished, with a color TV, a waterbed, imported kitchenware, and fine china. They read the straight press: Time, The Oakland Tribune.  

A Maoist poster and a picture of a starving child hung over their dining table. Donald Segretti, White House spy, had a "Free Huey Newton" poster over his desk, and wore a peace emblem and long hair, for espionage cover. William and Emily Harris were verbally and visually "radical."  

Emily owned a gun, registered in her name, and practiced shooting twice a week at Chabot Gun Club, in Oakland.  

Emily's father, Mr. Schwartz, said on TV that in her last letter, she explained a change in her life-style, saying she had been "pretending for some time." Her other life -- the straight life, with material possessions, non-radical experiences, formal education, and employment at the UCB polling office -- might indicate that the SLA experience did not reflect her real self. Suddenly abandoning her husband for a "black lover" and disappearing with Randolph Hearst's daughter might have been part of her next assignment.


William Harris, alias Rip Kimberley, Richard Frank Dennis, Jonathan Mark Salamone, Teko

B.A., University of Indiana; studied Speech and English. Enlisted in U.S. Marines, served at the supply depot at DaNang. Joseph Remiro and Colton Westbrook were in Vietnam at the same time.  

Returned to Indiana. Joined fraternity; competed in golf and cross-country running.

Member of "mod squad," with Emily, and Angela Atwood. Set up narcotics arrests for the Intelligence Division, Indiana State Police. Studied at College of Foreign Affairs, University of Indiana.  

Taught at Bloomington Junior High School before coming to California.  

Received Master's Degree in "Urban Education" at Indiana. CIA agent Colton Westbrook, leader of the group which became the SLA, taught "Black Lexicon" in the Department of Urban Affairs at UC Berkeley.  

Not a campus radical, but kept posters of Black Panthers Huey Newton and Bobby Seale in trailer in Indiana following his return from Vietnam. Later, the SLA headquarters contained a map of Huey Newton's apartment, and his name was listed as a possible death target.

In California, worked as truck driver for Post Office. Postal helmet discovered November 10, 1973, following the arrest of Remiro and Little, at Sutherland Courthouse in Concord. Harris could have been identified by police at that time, before the Hearst kidnapping.

November, 1973: purchased 9mm Mauser pistol, registered in his own name.  

Joined Chabot Gun Club, in Oakland, and practiced twice a week. Associated with, but not active in, Vietnam Veterans Against the War, a heavily infiltrated organization.  

Rented SLA safe house in December, 1973, that would be filled with propaganda which would later be used by Attorney General William Saxbe for future political terrorism and repression.  

Driver's license from Rhode Island. Never explained when or why Harris was in Rhode Island.  

Mayor Alioto claimed Emily and William Harris intended to kidnap his grandchildren. Considering the Harrises' provocateur role, and Alioto's election campaign for Governor, it is possible that they obliged him by making themselves conspicuous in his neighborhood without being arrested by police.  

Caused an altercation at Mel's Sporting Goods Store, Inglewood, that would be the signal for the pre-arranged murder of six SLA members. Set Patty up in the "shooting scene". Purposely introduced and identified "Tania" to Tom Matthews during an unnecessary 12-hour captivity; supervised her so-called "confession" to Matthews, framing her so that 22 charges would be brought against her.  

Harris' military I.D. was found in the death house on 54th Street, in Los Angeles. It was not explained why a radical revolutionary terrorist was still using his military I.D.  

Set Patty Hearst up so that she could witness the massacre of the other SLA members.

June 7, 1974: released another "SLA Communiqué," hardly the rhetoric of George Jackson, Malcolm X, Chairman Mao, or Martin Luther King. The man with a B.A. in English and a Master's Degree produced a provocative, foulmouthed public display that can only harm legitimate protest.  

Harris is probably currently hiding in a CIA safe house ranch, preparing for his next outrageous actions. 

While the Harrises acted as provocateurs, and set Patty Hearst up, they themselves are not wanted for anything.  

"The Harrises are less militant than their six SLA comrades.... So far, the Harrises were not overtly involved in any of these incidents...." So says Charles Bates, Chief of FBI, San Francisco.  

"I feel that Bill and Emily Harris have lost touch with the masses. They have become isolated. The SLA is not an organized group that plans its actions as far as I can see. My political friends and comrades think the SLA has a superfly mentality. They lined their pockets with the bank robbery money and accomplished nothing but spreading of fear." -- Bill Brennan, former roommate of Joseph Remiro.


Were Emily or William Harris ever in touch with the masses? Or was their role, as police agents, to do exactly as they were told?


Emily and William Harris, now divorced, are alive and living well in California.  Both were subpoenaed to appear as witnesses at Olson’s trial.


The Los Angeles Times, on January 13, 2000, published recent comments of the Harrises, who were known as Teko and Yolanda during the 22 months of the SLA’s reign of “domestic terror”:

``Did I accomplish anything?'' Bill Harris recently mused. ``Yeah, I accomplished ignominy.''

Harris is 55 now, married with two children. He works as a private investigator in San Francisco. Criminal defense work, he says, provides a more appropriate and fulfilling outlet for his activist bent.


His former wife, Emily, is a computer consultant in the Los Angeles area. Now 53, she maintains the type of tidy, ordered life she might have expected growing up a child of privilege. She zealously guards her privacy and dreads renewed interest in the 22 months she was Yolanda.


``I don't think about it every day, but it's definitely part of my personal history, so for me it's always there, '' she said during a secret meeting last month at a Los Angeles area hotel. She reluctantly agreed to talk, but only if her photograph and current name, address and employment details weren't published.


``Any person's life is an evolution and growth path,'' she said. ``I made choices and, looking back now, I think some of those choices were extremely reckless and ill conceived. But I paid the price. I've moved on.'


On November 6, 2001, Judge Fidler will decide the validity of Olson’s guilty plea, and he will decide the fate of the first show case trial of a “domestic terrorist” in the 21st Century.  Unfortunately, it is likely that many future American defendants will be forced to  look back on the Olson case when they face judge and jury.


Probably no one is more interested in the validity of Olson’s guilty plea than Emily and William Harris and those shadowy law enforcement officers and intelligence operatives who set up, encouraged and then covered up one of America’s first domestic terrorist organizations, the SLA.


As Mae Brussell said in “Why Was Patricia Hearst Kidnapped?”

“Only Three SLA Members Left: Emily and William Harris, and Patty Hearst. Stage one of the SLA was over. Randolph Hearst assumed his daughter could now "vanish. The scenario included murder, kidnapping, bank robbery and cremation. Now the hunt begins. The word "terrorist" has become as American as apple pie.”

Virginia McCullough and Kate Dixon © 2001