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Members of Radical California Group Sentenced for Roles in Famous 1975 Bank Robbery - 2003-02-15


Four former members of the radical Symbionese Liberation Army have been sentenced to prison for their roles in a deadly bank robbery in 1975. The case recalls a violent episode in California's past.

Several defendants apologized to the family of the woman who was killed in the robbery. Another expressed sorrow in a written statement. The victim, Myrna Opsahl, had been a customer in the bank in suburban Carmichael, California, when the four robbed it.

The radical group know as the SLA was founded in Berkeley in 1973 by a small band of would-be revolutionaries. They made headlines the following year by kidnapping newspaper heiress Patty Hearst, a 19-year-old student.

The heiress became a part of the radical group, adopting the name of Tania and joining her former captors in a bank robbery in San Francisco. Hearst would serve two years in prison for the crime before President Carter commuted her sentence. One witness to the robbery in suburban Carmichael, former bank teller Rachel Harp, says she relives the violent episode every day. "We were threatened, shotguns were held to our heads, we were kicked, we were screamed at, and left as if we were nothing on the ground," she said.

Each of the four defendants had gone on to build a new life. Sarah Jane Olson was the wife of a doctor and mother of three children in St. Paul, Minnesota. Authorities located her in 1999, and she was sentenced to 14 years in prison in a separate case, for placing bombs under two Los Angeles police cars. The explosives did not go off, and no one was hurt.

Two other defendants, William Harris and his former wife, Emily Montague, earlier spent eight years in prison for kidnapping Ms. Hearst.

Montague, who said she fired the gun accidentally, was sentenced to eight years in prison, Harris to seven years, and Olson and codefendant Michael Bortin to six years.

The case is pending for another defendant. James Kilgore, 55, has been extradited from South Africa, where he lived under an assumed identity and was a respected university professor.

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