Attorneys say Patty Hearst will be pivotal in Sara Jane Olson case
LOS ANGELES – The case against former SLA fugitive Sara Jane Olson will be based ”90 percent on Patty Hearst and her book,” a defense lawyer said Tuesday after reviewing prosecution documents.
Olson called the case against her a witch hunt during a news conference in Minneapolis, then told reporters she is broke – two months before her trial is even scheduled to start.
San Francisco attorney Stuart Hanlon said by telephone he was shocked at the prosecution trial brief laying out plans to present evidence on a series of crimes dating back to the early 1970s which have not been linked to Olson.
”I thought we were trying the case of a woman charged with conspiracy to blow up police cars,” he said.
But the prosecution brief refers to other crimes, including the 1973 murder of Oakland schools chief Marcus Foster and the 1975 robbery of a bank in Carmichael, Calif., in which a pregnant woman was killed.
”If one really had a case dealing with a bombing conspiracy, the case would fix on that,” Hanlon said. ”Instead they are taking this shotgun approach.”
”I’m an ordinary American woman,” Olson said at her news conference. ”And that’s why it’s rather a surprise that I am the target of a determined conspiracy prosecution by the Los Angeles district attorney’s office.”
Olson claimed prosecutors are trying to put the SLA on trial again, 25 years after the Hearst kidnapping.
”I am being tried not for what I’m accused of but for the crimes of the SLA and for events with which I have not even been affiliated, including the kidnapping of Patricia Hearst,” she said.
The prosecution would not comment on the defense view.
”We filed our brief, which maps out our case. She was arrested on an outstanding warrant and we intend to proceed with this case in the courtroom and not in the media. She will be tried before a jury of her peers,” said Victoria Pipkin, a spokeswoman for the district attorney’s office.
Hanlon, who earlier declined to discuss the prosecution strategy, said ”this seems like a very desperate act by a desperate prosecutor. It seems the evidence involving bombings is non-existent.”
He said he had received a huge amount of discovery material dealing with the Carmichael bank robbery, indicating the prosecution ”wants to try that case too.”
”If we have to litigate Carmichael, we will,” Hanlon said. ”Sara Jane Olson was not involved.”
”I have a case pending against me that is frightening in its scope. Anything I say can be taken out of context and used against me,” Olson said. ”I believe that I am being prosecuted for the last 23 years of my life as much as for those that preceded them.”
A judge in Connecticut, where Hearst lives under her married name of Patricia Hearst Shaw, has ordered her appearance as a prosecution witness at Olson’s trial in response to a subpoena issued in Los Angeles Superior Court.
She has said she does not want to testify and her lawyer, George C. Martinez, said, ”I can tell you she is not happy about it.”
Olson was indicted in 1976 and was a fugitive until June when she was arrested in Minnesota. Formerly known as Kathleen Soliah, she legally changed to her adopted name. She is the wife of a doctor, mother of three children, and respected member of her church and community. Friends raised $1 million to win her release on bail.
Olson is accused of plotting to avenge the deaths of SLA members by killing Los Angeles police officers with nail-packed pipe bombs planted under squad cars in August 1975. The devices did not explode and no one was hurt. Olson has denied any involvement.
Grand jury testimony in the case released early this year showed that the only two witnesses capable of linking her to the bombs have died.
The prosecution wants the testimony of one dead witness to be admitted even though it would violate Olson’s right to confront her accuser, Hanlon said.
”They are saying that as a fugitive she waived her rights,” Hanlon said. ”There is no such provision in any law of this country and the theory is one that any real lawyer would be embarrassed to mention. It’s another sign of their desperation.”
Hanlon said he expects the trial to go forward as scheduled in January. But based on the briefs, he said he expected it to take longer and be more complicated than he first expected.
”It looks like we’re on an unstable course,” he said. ”It’s going to be costly and you have to ask what’s in this for the taxpayers?”
Olson said in Minnesota that she could no longer afford her defense and made a plea for donations.
”My husband and I cannot afford this case. It is way beyond our personal wealth. Our friends have been wonderful but they have exhausted their resources,” she said.
Members of the Sara Olson Defense Fund Committee estimate her defense will cost between $500,000 and $700,000.