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Thursday, 1 November, 2001, 04:08 GMT
Hearst gang fugitive pleads guilty
Sara Jane Olson, right, and her husband, Dr Fred Peterson, centre, with daughter Sophie Peterson
Olson (r) left her family in tears with her plea
Sara Jane Olson, a member of the radical Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA) made notorious through a high-profile kidnap, has pleaded guilty to the attempted murder of several police officers more than 25 years ago.

I pleaded guilty to something I was not guilty of

Sara Jane Olson

But Olson, who agreed to admit guilt in exchange for prosecutors dropping three other charges, insisted outside court that she was innocent of the charge.

A grand jury had accused her of planting bombs under police cars to murder the officers in retaliation for the deaths of six SLA members who died in a shootout and ensuing fire in 1974.

Kathleen Soliah, later to become Sara Jane Olson
Kathy Soliah speaking in Berkeley in 1974
The group had made their name that same year when they kidnapped the 19-year-old heiress Patricia Hearst from her California apartment.

A violent clan of left-wing radicals ardently opposed to the establishment, the SLA demanded that Hearst's newspaper magnate father distribute millions of dollars of food aid to the poor before they would discuss her release.

Undercover

Olson, now 54, was arrested two years ago in Minnesota, after the FBI offered a $20,000 reward and showed her photograph on an episode of "America's Most Wanted".

She was living under an assumed name and married, with three children.

Patricia Hearst
Patricia Hearst joined up with her kidnappers

Her lawyers had made an unsuccessful bid to delay the trial until January, arguing that she could not expect a fair hearing in the aftermath of the 11 September attacks.

"I pleaded guilty to something I was not guilty of," she told reporters outside the court.

Attorney Shawn Snyder Chapman said she was worried that the case would be damaged by the current climate of fear of terrorism and overweening admiration for the police.

"Sara Jane Olson is truly a victim of September 11," defence attorney J Tony Serra said.

"We didn't have a level playing field. They have brandished about the term of domestic terrorism."

But Deputy Distinct Attorney Eleanor Hunter, who was trying the case, said Olson was "either lying in court or lying outside court to save her face".

She said that the evidence against Olson was "overwhelming".

Olson had disappeared shortly after the attempted bombings in 1974, and after her arrest maintained that she had played no part.

But on Wednesday she admitted to possessing explosive devices and attempting to explode them in the two incidents.

The agreement struck with the prosecutors did not guarantee a specific sentence, although a recommendation will be put forward that she serve time in jail in Minnesota, near her family.

She is due to be sentenced on 7 December and faces up to 20 years in prison, although defence lawyers expect a term of about six years.

Hearst twist

Olson had been implicated in SLA crimes by Patricia Hearst, who wrote a book about her experience with the SLA.

Hearst herself soon joined the SLA after being kidnapped and was involved in a bank robbery in San Francisco.

She was imprisoned, but had served only two years of a seven-year sentence before she was freed by then President Jimmy Carter.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's David Willis
"She has admitted possessing an explosive device with intent to commit murder"
See also:

17 Jun 99 | Americas
Hearst 'kidnapper' arrested
19 Dec 00 | Americas
Randolph Hearst dies
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