by Diana Block
In the wake of the events of September 11th and under tremendous duress, Sara Jane Olson entered a guilty plea on October 31, 2001 to charges of two counts of planting pipe bombs under Los Angeles police cars in 1975. Sara pled guilty because of legal advice that she would not be able to get a fair trial in the super charged climate following 9/11. On January 18th, Sara was sentenced to two concurrent terms of 10 years to life under current sentencing laws, although according to Saras attorney, Shawn Chapman, Sara should actually only serve at most 5 1/4 years under sentencing laws in effect in 1975 when the offense took place.
Two days before her sentencing, Sara was arrested on new charges stemming from a 1975 SLA bank robbery in Carmichael, California which resulted in the death of bank patron, Myrna Opsahl. Three other people were arrested on the same charges. Sara pled not guilty to all these charges at her arraignment in Los Angeles, insisting once again that she was not a part of the SLA and she had no connection with the Carmichael robbery.
For years, the Sacramento D.A. refused to prosecute the Carmichael case, insisting that the evidence was insufficient and the case was unprosecutable. However prolonged pressure from the Los Angeles D.A., the press and Myrna Opsahls son coupled with events of September 11th and Saras guilty plea finally pushed Sacramento to move forward with the case. Since the arrests, the media has had repeatedly highlighted the prosecutions version of SLA history in their effort to work with the government to make this a showcase trial against domestic terrorism in the post 9/11 era. Patty Hearst was once a reluctant witness whom even the state considered lacking in credibility. Now having received a presidential pardon for her role in the SLA, (including her participation in the Carmichael robbery) is trumpeting her eagerness to take the witness stand.
Anti-terrorist legislation such as the PATRIOT Act and the detentions of thousands of people worldwide as part of the investigation of 9/11have created a threatening atmosphere which hangs over this case. The government hopes that political support will be scared off by the specter of an SLA-related witchhunt. But the issue is not the SLA, an organization which had many fundamental problems, but the right of people to a fair trial, one which is not determined by the medias declaration of guilt before any real evidence has even been presented.
Sara is currently in custody in Sacramento County jail. Letters can be sent to:
Sara Olson/Kathleen Soliah, # 3828387
Sacramento County Main Jail
Location 7W, 4-03
651 I. Street
Sacramento, CA 95814