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Kathleen Soliah was a member of the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA). She lived most of her life under the alias Sara Jane Olson.
After graduating from the University of California at Santa Barbara, Soliah moved to Berkeley, California with her boyfriend, Jim Kilgore. There, she met Angela Atwood at an audition where they both won lead roles. They became inseparable during the play's run. Angela tried to sponsor Soliah into the SLA, but the other members thought her too "flaky." Regardless, Soliah and Jim Kilgore, along with her brother Steve and sister Josephine followed the SLA closely. When Angela and other core members of the SLA were killed in Watts, California, the Soliahs organized memorial rallies.
On April 21, 1975, SLA members robbed the Crocker National Bank in Carmichael, California, killing Myrna Opsahl, a bank customer, in the process. Patty Hearst, who admitted to being a getaway driver, stated that Soliah was one of the actual robbers.
On August 21, 1975, bombs that had failed to detonate were discovered under several Los Angeles Police Department patrol cars. Soliah was accused of planting the bombs in an attempt to avenge the slain SLA members.
In February 1976, a grand jury indicted in the bombing case. Soliah went underground and became a fugitive for 23 years. She moved to St. Paul, Minnesota, assumed the alias Sara Jane Olson, married and had three daughters. She was active in community issues and human rights campaigns. On March 3, 1999 and again on May 15, 1999, Soliah was profiled on the "America's Most Wanted" television program; after a tip, she was arrested in June of that year and charged with conspiracy to commit murder, possession of explosives, explosion and attempt to ignite an explosive with intent to murder.
Shortly after her arrest, she legally changed her name to the alias. Her community raised a substantial amount of money to post bond for her, demonstrating that she had become accepted under her new identity, and she published a cookbook entitled Serving Time: America's Most Wanted Recipes.(External Link) On October 31, 2001, she accepted a plea bargain, and pled guilty to two counts of possessing explosives with intent to murder. The other charges were dropped.
Immediately after entering the plea, however, Olson told reporters that she was innocent and that her plea bargain was a lie forced on her by the September 11, 2001 Terrorist Attack. "It became clear to me that the incident would have a remarkable effect on the outcome of this trial ... the effect was probably going to be negative," she said. "That's really what governed this decision, not the truth or honesty, but what was probably in my best interests and the interests of my family."
Angered by Olson's announcement that she had lied in court, Superior Court Judge Larry Fidler ordered another hearing on November 6, at which he asked her several times if she was indeed guilty of the charges. Olson, rolling her eyes and sighing theatrically, replied "I want to make it clear, Your Honor, that I did not make that bomb. I did not possess that bomb. I did not plant that bomb. But under the concept of aiding and abetting, I plead guilty."
Then, on November 13, Olson filed a motion requesting to withdraw her guilty plea because "I realize I cannot plead guilty when I know I am not." She acknowledged that she did not misunderstand the judge when he read the charges against her. Rather, she said "Cowardice prevented me from doing what I knew I should: Throw caution aside and move forward to trial. ... I am not second-guessing my decision as much as I have found the courage to take what I know is the honest course. Please, Judge Fidler, grant my request to go to trial."
On December 3, Fidler offered to let Olson testify under oath about her role in the case. She refused. He then wondered "I took those pleas twice ... were you lying to me then or are you lying to me now?" -- and denied her request to withdraw her plea. Observers expected her to serve only three to five years, but on January 18, she was sentenced to two consecutive 10-years-to-life terms. She will be eligible for parole in five years.
On January 16, 2002, first-degree murder charges for the killing of Myrna Opsahl were filed against five SLA members including Olson. Olson pleaded not guilty to that charge at the time, but on November 7, changed her mind and pled guilty. She was sentenced on February 14, 2003 for the maximum term allowed under her plea bargain, which added six years to the 14-year sentence she is already serving.