CHOWCHILLA -- The legal odyssey of '70s radical Sara Jane Olson ended shortly after midnight Tuesday, as family members spirited her away from Central California Women’s Facility in Chowchilla.
Olson, formerly known as Kathleen Soliah, member of the defunct Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA), was released on parole after serving seven years in the prison, according to Terry Thornton, a spokeswoman for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.
She began serving her sentence in 2001, after pleading guilty to placing pipe bombs under Los Angeles Police Department patrol cars and participating in the 1975 robbery of the Crocker National Bank in Carmichael, a Sacramento County suburb.
During that robbery, Myrna Opsahl, a 42-year-old mother of four, was shot to death. She was making a deposit for her church.
Olson had been a fugitive until her arrest in 1999, and she served about half her sentence.
Thornton said two parole agents picked up Olson and took her to a processing office in Madera County before turning her over to her husband, Dr. Gerald "Fred" Peterson. The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation approved Olson's request to be transferred to Minnesota, where she had been living before her arrest.
A request for an interview was placed to Shawn Chapman Holley, Olson’s attorney. Those calls haven’t been returned.
Jon Opsahl, the victim's son, said Olson and those responsible for his mother's death should have been prosecuted much earlier. He also said it’s "disappointing" that Olson is free, after only serving a relatively short time in prison for her involvement in his mother’s death.
Opsahl, 49, was 15 when his mother was murdered. "They got away with murder and robbery, and yet they want everyone to think they are the victims," Opsahl said.
Opsahl, who lives in Riverside, said he was also bothered that Olson appeared to not "have a clue" during her court proceeding, saying that she exhibited no remorse for her crime. He described his mother as a "very helping, loving (person) -- all those things that kids are supposed to have."
He agreed that the saying, "justice delayed is justice denied" rings true in his mother’s death. "It's just unfair that something was not done a lot sooner," he said.
The Los Angeles Police Protective League and the St. Paul Police Federation had asked Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger not to allow Olson to serve her parole in Minnesota, arguing that she should remain in California, where the crimes were committed.
David Titus, president of the St. Paul Police Federation, said it was "unfortunate" that the police unions' request wasn't granted. Titus said Olson will probably return to the city's Highland Park area.
Although Olson has her supporters, Titus said there are many in St. Paul who won't welcome her return. "The bottom line is, she lied to her neighbors and friends and those who claimed to know her over two decades," Titus said. "That, to me, is a great testament of her character. She's a fraud."
Senator Jeff Denham, R-Merced, also wrote a letter to Schwarzenegger, saying that he disagreed with her parole. "Olson, in fact, lived the life the woman she killed could not -- most ironically, raising children in a quiet suburb," Denham said. "Olson is a terrorist and should not be paroled."
The SLA was a 1970s militant group known mostly for the 1975 kidnapping of newspaper heiress Patty Hearst. In addition to the Hearst kidnapping, it claimed responsibility for assassinating Oakland Schools Superintendent Marcus Foster and was involved in a shootout with Los Angeles police officers that killed five SLA members.
Based in the San Francisco Bay Area, the group promoted the violent overthrow of the U.S. government.
Olson, then known as Kathleen Soliah, disappeared after she and SLA members targeted LAPD officers in 1975, placing pipe bombs under two police cars. One bomb, which was packed with nails, failed to explode, while the other unexploded bomb was found under another police car miles away.
In Minnesota, Olson lived a life far removed from her days as a gun-toting SLA urban guerrilla, volunteering in social causes, acting in community theater and raising three daughters.
Her assumed life in St. Paul came to an end in 1999, however, after she was profiled on the television show "America’s Most Wanted," and a tip led to her arrest. "We were young and foolish. We felt we were committing an idealized, ideological action to obtain government-insured money and that we were not stealing from ordinary people," Olson wrote in an apology before her sentencing for the bank robbery. "In the end, we stole someone's life."
Olson was released by mistake a year ago after California corrections officials miscalculated her parole date. She spent five days with her family before she was rearrested.
All but one other former SLA member have been released from prison.
Opsahl’s killer, Emily Montague-Harris, was paroled in February 2007 after serving half her eight-year sentence. She says she accidentally fired the shotgun that killed Opsahl.
Montague-Harris' former husband, William Harris, was paroled in September 2006 after serving half his seven-year sentence for acting as a lookout during the robbery. The couple previously spent eight years in prison for the Hearst kidnapping.
Hearst herself spent nearly two years in prison before her sentence was commuted by President Jimmy Carter. She was pardoned by President Clinton in 2001.
Michael Bortin was paroled in February 2006.
Only James Kilgore remains in prison. He eluded capture in South Africa until his arrest in November 2002 and was sentenced in May 2004. He is scheduled for release in May.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Reporter Victor A. Patton can be reached at (209) 385-2431 or firstname.lastname@example.org.