by Diana Block
Sara Jane Olson (AKA Kathleen Soliah) was arrested in the summer of 1999 in St. Paul, Minnesota where she has lived since 1978. She was charged with conspiracy to plant pipe bombs under Los Angeles police cars in 1975. The bombs were allegedly in retaliation for a 1974 L.A. police massacre in which six members of the radical Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA) were incinerated in a Black neighborhood in Compton, California. Although the bombs never exploded, Sara is being charged twenty-five years later with attempted murder and is facing a life sentence if convicted. Because the evidence is so flimsy, the L.A. District Attorney has expanded the case to include 22 other SLA-related felonies, bringing in 200 witnesses and the entire history of the SLA (which Sara says she was never a member of). Sara’s attorneys filed a motion to exclude the uncharged offenses because they are irrelevant to the original charge but the appeal has been rejected.
The star witness in the trial will be Patricia Hearst, the granddaughter of media giant William Randolph Hearst, who was kidnapped by the SLA in 1974. Patty Hearst has received immunity from all further prosecution in exchange for testimony against Sara and others. The Los Angeles police and D.A. are trying to convict Sara through their distorted version of the history of seventies radicals. But Sara has pleaded not guilty and tells a very different story. She needs to be supported regardless of what one may think of the SLA over two decades later.
Sara, who has legally changed her name from Kathleen Soliah, is 53 years old and lives in the Twin Cities with her husband and three daughters. After she was arrested, $1 million bail was raised by family, friends, supporters and church members. Sara’s case was pursued for years by Los Angeles detective Tom King whose father, Mervin, was in charge of the deadly police action in Compton in 1974. It is no coincidence that this case is being tried at the same time as the corrupt practices of the L.A.P.D.’s Rampart Division, which include fabrication and planting of evidence, perjured testimony and open violence against youth of color, are being exposed through the testimony of one of their own police officers. Sara’s trial is an effort to divert attention from the crimes of the L.A.P.D. by scapegoating a woman who has fought against police brutality and for social justice all her life.
Sara is being prosecuted in one of the most wide ranging conspiracy cases ever brought against a U.S. citizen. Since her arrest, Sara’s case has mainly received sensationalistic media coverage. To challenge these distorted views, the SF Bay Area CCWP cosponsored with the National Lawyer’s Guild a successful public forum in which Sara, her defense committee and one of her attorneys were able to present the real facts about her history. In November, CCWP sponsored similar forums in Santa Cruz and San Diego. This is all part of the effort to build support for Sara before her trial begins in Los Angeles on January 8, 2001.
For more info contact the Sara Olson Defense Fund Committee, P.O. Box 300123, Minneapolis, MN 55403; 612-822-1637; www.saraolsondefense.org.