BBC NEWS Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific Spanish Portuguese Caribbean

BBC News UK Edition
 You are in: World: Americas  
News Front Page
Middle East
South Asia
From Our Own Correspondent
Letter From America
N Ireland
Talking Point
Country Profiles
In Depth
BBC Sport
BBC Weather
Saturday, 15 February, 2003, 02:18 GMT
Hearst gang members jailed
Former SLA member Michael Bortin holds his head as he is sentenced, as does Sara Jane Olson
The four had been on the run for more than 20 years
Four former members of the radical Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA) have been sent to prison for between six to eight years after being found guilty of the murder of a bank customer during a hold-up in 1975.

Opsahl's son - and granddaughter - were present to hear the sentencing
The four apologised to Opsahl's relatives for her death
William Harris, his ex-wife Emily Montague, Michael Bortin and Sara Jane Olson had admitted second-degree murder in a California court in a plea-bargain that prevented a possible life sentence.

Montague - who had pulled the trigger which fired the fatal shots in the robbery - received the stiffest sentence of eight years, while Harris received seven years.

Olson - who is already serving 14 years for an attempt to blow up two police cars in 1975 - received six years, as did Bortin.

Apologies for victim

The four were notorious as members of the extremist SLA, a group responsible for committing some of America's most infamous crimes in the mid-1970s, including the kidnapping, and subsequent brainwashing, of heiress Patty Hearst.

Patty Hearst holds a gun in front of the SLA flag
Hearst was kidnapped - and brainwashed - by the SLA

Hearst, who was present at the robbery, was at one point thought to be a possible witness in the four's trial, but the plea deal meant this never transpired.

In court all apologised to relatives of the victim - Myrna Opsahl, a 42-year-old housewife shot as she deposited church money at the Crocker National Bank in Sacramento.

"I've thought about your mother a lot," he told Opsahl's son, who was present at the sentencing.

"Your mother was never an abstraction to me. It's absolutely unacceptable that this happened."

"I will be sorry for the rest of my life," added Montague, who had admitted in an earlier court hearing that she had levelled a sawn-off shotgun at Mrs Opsahl, but claimed it had gone off accidentally.

On the run

After a dramatic showdown with police which left most of its members dead the remaining SLA members fled, many turning to a life in quiet American suburbia.

Olson was finally captured after more than two decades on the run in 1999 in St Paul, Minnesota, where she had been living under an assumed name as a doctor's wife, community theatre actress and mother of three.

The others were picked up by police soon afterwards.

The last remaining SLA member, James Kilgore, was captured in South Africa last year, where he had been working as a university professor with a wife and children.

He was extradited to the US last month, and is expected to plead guilty to forgery and federal explosives charges in court later this month, Reuters news agency reported.

See also:

19 Dec 02 | Americas
09 Nov 02 | Africa
18 Jan 02 | Americas
17 Jan 02 | Americas
01 Nov 01 | Americas
17 Jun 99 | Americas
19 Dec 00 | Americas
Internet links:

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Links to more Americas stories are at the foot of the page.

 E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more Americas stories

© BBC ^^ Back to top

News Front Page | World | UK | England | N Ireland | Scotland | Wales |
Politics | Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature | Technology |
Health | Education | Talking Point | Country Profiles | In Depth |