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Former Radical Group Member Pleads Guilty to 1975 Crime - 2001-11-01

A former member of the radical Symbionese Liberation Army has pleaded guilty to the 1975 crime of trying to murder police officers with explosive devices. The defendant, Sara Jane Olson, said she entered a guilty plea as a result of the terror attacks September 11. The former member of the radical group, who known as the time as Kathleen Soliah, was a fugitive for nearly 25 years. She was captured in 1999 in St. Paul, Minnesota, living in a well-to-do community, the wife of a physician and mother of three.

She pleaded guilty to planting bombs under two Los Angeles police cars to avenge the deaths of six members of the radical group. The six had died in Los Angeles in a shootout and fire in 1974. The bombs that she planted failed to explode.

Throughout the proceedings, Sara Jane Olson had maintained her innocence. But speaking with reporters outside the Los Angeles courtroom, she said the recent terror attacks in New York and Washington could have influenced her jury.

"I had to accept the uncertainty of a jury verdict," she said. "This is something that until September 11, I really refused to consider and I was going to go ahead. But the minute that happened, after my initial shock, it became clear to me that that incident was going to have a remarkable effect on the outcome of this trial."

The radical organization known as the SLA made headlines in 1974, kidnapping nineteen-year-old newspaper heiress Patty Hearst. The heiress then joined the group for a time in a spree of bank robberies. Patty Hearst was later arrested and imprisoned, but President Jimmy Carter commuted her sentence.

Under the plea agreement, Sara Jane Olson will avoid a trial in which prosecutors had promised to recount every violent crime that the SLA committed. Those crimes include the killing in 1973 of the school superintendent of the city of Oakland.

Sara Jane Olson maintained that she was never a full member of the radical group, but only a friend of some of its members. However, Patty Hearst wrote in a published memoir that Olson was involved in SLA crimes.

Lawyers for the defendant say they expect a sentence of five years in prison. However, no sentence was specified in the plea agreement and the charges carry a possible sentence of life in prison. The agreement does recommend that Olson be allowed to serve her sentence near her Minnesota home. Under the agreement, prosecutors also dropped three additional charges. Sentencing is scheduled for December 7.