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Friday, 18 January, 2002, 22:38 GMT
Hearst gang's Olson sentenced
Sara Jane Olson, right, and her husband, Dr Fred Peterson, centre, with daughter Sophie Peterson
Olson said she did not intend to murder the police officers
Former US revolutionary Sara Jane Olson has been sentenced to at least 20 years in prison for attempting to blow up two Los Angeles police cars in 1975.


She's one of the best mothers anyone could want

Leila Olson
Daughter
Olson, once a member of the Symbionese Liberation Army, pleaded guilty to the charges that she helped plant explosives beneath the cars 26 years ago. The bombs failed to detonate.

"For any mistakes I made, I accept responsibility. For any pain I've caused, I accept responsibility," Olson told the court during a hearing that was televised live.

Judge Larry Fidler gave her two mandatory sentences of 10 years to life, to run consecutively.

However, she could be free after only five years, after her sentence is recalculated according to changes in the law since 1975.

The 54-year-old was a fugitive for more than 20 years until her 1999 arrest in Minnesota. She had changed her name from Kathleen Soliah, married a doctor and had three children.

Murder

When the trial opened in November, defence lawyers said they expected Olson to receive a jail term of around six years.

Kathleen Soliah, later to become Sara Jane Olson
Kathy Soliah speaking in Berkeley in 1974
But they had said they were worried that the 11 September terrorist attacks and the ensuing admiration for the police could have negative implications for Olson - as a former member of an extremist group accused of trying to harm police officers.

On Friday, she was also accused in court of separate murder charges related to a bloody California bank robbery in 1975 in which a bystander, mother-of-four Myrna Opsahl, was killed.

Olson pleaded not guilty to the charges.

Four other members of the SLA, which made its name with the kidnap of newspaper heiress Patricia Hearst in the 1970s, have also been arrested on the same murder charges.

The other suspects are ex-husband and wife Emily and Bill Harris, Olson's brother-in-law Mike Bortin, and James Kilgore.

Suburban mom

Patty Hearst, who joined the SLA after her abduction and spent time in prison before President Jimmy Carter commuted her sentence, had implicated Olson and the others in SLA crimes in a book about her experience with the group.

The FBI offered a $20,000 reward for information leading to Olson and showed her photograph on an episode of "America's Most Wanted".

She was arrested two years ago.

Witnesses during the trial had told the court about Olson's contributions to her community in Minnesota, where she had been a hospital volunteer, taught English to immigrants and read to the blind.

Her daughter Leila, 15, broke into tears, saying, "She's one of the best mothers anyone would ever want."

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Michael Buchanan
"Olsen reinvented herself as a churchgoing housewife and mother of three"
See also:

17 Jan 02 | Americas
America's hippy extremists
01 Nov 01 | Americas
Hearst gang fugitive pleads guilty
17 Jun 99 | Americas
Hearst 'kidnapper' arrested
19 Dec 00 | Americas
Randolph Hearst dies
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