Sara Jane Olson will likely return to St. Paul after release from
Parole approval expected as California releases former 1970s radical
on March 17
By Emily Gurnon
Sara Jane Olson, the former Symbionese Liberation Army member turned
St. Paul housewife and actress, appears likely to reprise her local
roles as soon as she is released from a California prison March 17.
Unlike a year ago, when Olson was released early because of a prison
clerical error, her prison sentence will be complete at that time,
officials said Friday.
A California corrections official said he expected Olson would return
to St. Paul.
"When she was mistakenly released, we had gotten prior approval" from
Minnesota, said Gordon Hinkle, a spokesman for the California
Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.
Olson was about to board a Twin Cities-bound plane at Los Angeles
International Airport in March 2008 when she was detained and sent
back to the Central California Women's Facility in Chowchilla.
Ramsey County will decide Monday whether Olson, 62, qualifies to
serve her three-year supervised parole here based on having "resident
family" in St. Paul, said Chris Crutchfield, a spokesman with the
county Community Corrections Department.
Olson's husband, Gerald "Fred" Peterson, lives in St. Paul's Highland
Park neighborhood and works as an emergency room physician at United
Hospital in St. Paul. The couple has three daughters.
Shari Burt, a spokeswoman for the Minnesota Department of
Corrections, said that if an inmate has resident family here, the
parole transfer is automatically accepted.
Inmates in any state can request to be transferred to another state
after they're released from prison, Burt said. The state that accepts
the parolee takes responsibility to supervise parole and make sure
the parolee complies with required conditions.
Olson must pay for the costs of the supervision that Minnesota
provides, Hinkle said. Minnesota will make periodic reports to
California, which will keep Olson on its caseload.
If she violates conditions of parole which have yet to be
determined, Hinkle said California would determine the consequences, if any.
Burt said Minnesota received Olson's request for a parole transfer
Feb. 9. Minnesota technically has 45 days from that date to accept or
reject the request. It is Ramsey County's job to investigate the
claims Olson has made regarding family she has here, Burt said.
"I don't anticipate any problems with responding to California
before" the 45 days are up, Burt said.
Olson, who changed her name from Kathleen Soliah, was a member of the
Symbionese Liberation Army in the 1970s. The radical California
group, which became internationally known for kidnapping media
heiress Patty Hearst in 1974, also plotted in 1975 to kill Los
Angeles police officers by planting bombs under squad cars. And
members robbed a bank near Sacramento in 1974, shooting to death
customer Myrna Opsahl in the process.
Soliah was charged with conspiracy on the cop-killing plan and for
participating in the bank robbery and murder as the getaway driver.
But she went underground for more than 24 years spending most of
that time in St. Paul under her new identity: Sara Jane Olson.
Olson hid in plain sight, married Peterson and raised three daughters
in their home on Hillcrest Avenue while she acted in local theaters
and supported progressive causes.
Investigators caught up with Olson in 1999 after her case was
featured on the TV's "America's Most Wanted."
At first, she denied involvement in the SLA or their activities
claiming to be the victim of a witch hunt by officials. Her friends
and supporters rallied around her, sold cookbooks of her favorite
recipes and held fundraisers to amass $1 million in bail.
But Olson ended up pleading guilty to both charges. In her 2002 plea
hearing on the bank case, she tearfully recounted her role in the
crime, saying, "I will be sorry until the day I die."
She was sentenced to 14 years for the bombing and six years for
second-degree murder in the robbery. The sentences were to run concurrently.
In all, she will have served a little more than seven years of her
14-year sentence, receiving time off for good behavior.
Phone messages left for Olson's husband, daughters and attorney were
not returned by Friday night.
Emily Gurnon can be reached at 651-228-5522.
Sara Jane Olson is ready to come home
Sara Jane Olson is hoping to serve her parole in Minnesota, a decade
after her arrest for violent deeds as a 1970s radical.
By CURT BROWN, Star Tribune
Last update: March 6, 2009
A Ramsey County parole officer is scheduled to knock on a door in St.
Paul's Highland Park neighborhood on Monday. He'll chat with the
doctor who lives there and check out the living conditions.
That site visit and some related paperwork will open the door for
Sara Jane Olson to return home and bring to a close a 34-year saga
for the 1970s revolutionary-turned-homemaker, currently California
inmate No. W-94197.
Olson, 62, is to be released from a central California prison on
March 17, nearly a decade after she was arrested in her minivan in
St. Paul for militant acts committed during the tumultuous 1970s in California.
After hiding in plain view in St. Paul for many years, the onetime
Symbionese Liberation Army radical spent the last seven years in
prison for plotting to bomb Los Angeles police cars and for taking
part in a bank robbery near Sacramento in which one woman was killed.
Whether she'll be on parole for one year or three remains under debate.
Olson was free for five days last March, before California
corrections officials re-arrested her at the airport as she prepared
to fly home. They blamed a clerical error for her early release.
"Obviously, she doesn't want to have a screwup like last year," her
attorney, David Nickerson, said Friday from San Rafael, Calif. "She's
worried some glitch will hold up the whole process."
Correction officials in California and Minnesota expect no such
problems. They had approved her request last year to serve parole in
St. Paul. Olson made the same request Feb. 9, citing the family
resident criteria in the interstate rules that govern prisoners
released in one state who request to serve their parole in another.
"We don't see any issues," said Ramsey County corrections spokesman
Chris Crutchfield. "If all goes well, we'll be sending an acceptance
to California on Monday.''
Minnesota corrections spokeswoman Shari Burt said if Olson meets the
family resident requirements, approval is mandatory. Her husband, Dr.
Fred Peterson, lives in the same house he shared with his wife and
their three daughters before her 1999 arrest. In prison for seven
years, she missed most of her daughters' teenage years.
Gordon Hinkle, a California corrections spokesman, said that this
time he anticipates an unimpeded return for Olson back to Minnesota.
"I don't see anything unusual," Hinkle said. "When we got the date
wrong [a year ago], she was approved to go to Minnesota."
Burt and California officials said Olson is slated to be on probation
for three years, but her lawyer said pre-1978 California law calls
for one year of parole for her case.
The Los Angeles City Council considered a resolution last year,
asking Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to make her serve parole in California.
"That is L.A., eternal vengeance," Olson wrote last year on the
American Gulag prison reform website. "A bit more punishment for me
and for my husband and my daughters."
Her lawyer said an interstate agreement determines where prisoners
serve parole, and a governor would have no legal authority to get involved.
Olson lived a quiet life in St. Paul as an actress, DFL activist and
a mother until her 1999 arrest, when her true identity as 1970s
revolutionary Kathleen Soliah emerged. She was convicted in a failed
plot to blow up two Los Angeles police cars and for participating in
the bank robbery. She also helped the SLA hide kidnapped newspaper
heiress Patty Hearst in one of the most celebrated abductions of the century.
She went underground soon after, living in Africa and Washington
state before settling in the Twin Cities.
Calls to Olson's husband were not returned. In a letter from Olson to
the Star Tribune last year, she declined an interview request because
"my public persona has been defined in the mainstream media and I
don't believe any modification is allowable."
Olson has been writing frequently from her prison in Chowchilla for
progressive newspapers and websites, including the Freedom Alliance
in Fresno. High prison suicide rates and racial disparities have been
topics of her essays, which call for reforming "the non-corrective
human warehousing of the American Gulag.''
"I do what I've done before," she wrote. "I try to reach out through
writing, talking with people within the prison and with the few
allowed in to visit. That is what, it seems to me, any activist must,
at the least, do: educate and organize as creatively as possible."
She occasionally refers to her own circumstances.
"Since every person and every deed impacts on another, my politics
have intersected with many other struggles, dragging my family and
friends, and people I didn't even know along with me," she wrote.
"After I was arrested in 1999 for activities related to the
Symbionese Liberation Army in 1975, people whose lives I may have
brushed up against over 25 years before, had their worlds turned
upside down in the ensuing investigation."
Of her brief release and re-arrest last year, she said California
used a 1898 cattle rustling case to argue for locking up someone who
had been mistakenly released.
One of her younger cellmates quipped: "Miss Olson, that's even before
you were born,' " her husband recalled last year.
Staff writer Paul Walsh contributed to this report. Curt Brown • 612-673-4767
Soliah seeks to serve parole in Minnesota
March 5, 2009
Former Symbionese Liberation Army member Kathleen Soliah was released
from state prison in March 2008, only to be re-arrested and told that
because of a clerical error she would have to spend another year behind bars.
But Soliah, who served nearly seven years in a plot to kill Los
Angeles police officers, is due to be paroled within two weeks,
barring unforeseen changes.
The issue now is whether Soliah, now Sara Jane Olson, can be
supervised on parole in Minnesota, where she lived before being
arrested in connection with the 1975 plot to place pipe bombs under
police cars in retaliation for a standoff with LAPD officers that
left six SLA members dead.
Terry Thornton, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Corrections
and Rehabilitation, said the 62-year-old made the request for
supervised parole in Minnesota.
Both California and Minnesota corrections officials must approve the
request, which is still under review. If approved, Soliah would be
part of California's caseload and under the state's jurisdiction, but
Minnesota would monitor, supervise and provide parole services for her.
"She will know whether her request is approved by the time she is
released on parole," Thornton said, adding the department does not
provide exact release dates of inmates for safety and security reasons.
If her bid is approved, Soliah would be one of more than 1,000
California offenders who are on parole supervision in other states.
There are more than 1,400 parolees who served prison time in other
states but are being supervised in California.
"Parole is about reintegrating prison offenders back into the
community," Thornton said. "So if they are in place where they have
family support or a job lined up, that increases their chances for
success on parole."
Even so, it constitutes a small portion of the state's parolees. By
law, the vast majority are returned to their county of last legal
residence in California, barring extenuating circumstances, such as
if a victim lives in proximity to their address.
Officials for the Los Angeles Police union have urged state Atty.
Gen. Jerry Brown to make Soliah fulfill all the terms of her sentence
in California before she is allowed to go home.
"We do not believe that the state of Minnesota has a sufficient
interest in ensuring that Ms. Soliah does not violate her conditions
of parole," union President Paul M. Weber said. "The responsibility
to ensure that Ms. Soliah follows each and every requirement of
parole is one which should be undertaken by the state of California,
not 'outsourced' to another state. Ms. Soliah should be allowed to
travel to another state when she fulfills her obligations to
California, and not a minute before."
Last year, corrections officials cleared an out-of-state parole
transfer for her to Minnesota. Soliah was released and met with her
parole agent, who told her she was free to go to Minnesota and that
her Minnesota parole agent was to contact her Los Angeles parole agent.
But as she was preparing to board the plane home, she was detained by
prison officials and taken to her mother's home in Palmdale. It was
there she was informed of the "computation error" in which it was
discovered she had another year to go on her state prison sentence.
The product of a middle-class Palmdale family, Soliah joined a
radical group best known for kidnapping newspaper heiress Patty
Hearst in the mid-1970s. She fled after being charged with placing
nail-packed explosive devices under police cars. The devices were
discovered before detonation when the trigger on one malfunctioned
and failed to explode.
Soliah changed her name to Sara Jane Olson, left California and
married Peterson, an emergency-room physician. The couple lived for a
while in Zimbabwe before settling in St. Paul, Minn. Soliah lived
the quiet life of a homemaker and mother of three daughters in a
Tudor-style home in an upscale neighborhood near the Mississippi
River and performed in a local theater's Shakespeare productions.