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Published March 15 2009

Release of ’70s radical and Fargo-born Sara Jane Olson set Tuesday

SACRAMENTO – A saga that began in the cauldron of California’s counterculture and took a dramatic turn in a quiet, middle-class neighborhood in Minnesota is about to come to an end.

Fargo-born Sara Jane Olson, a 1970s radical who became a fugitive after attempting to kill Los Angeles police officers and participating in a deadly bank robbery near Sacramento, is scheduled to be released from a California prison Tuesday.

Her bid for freedom after serving seven years is not ending quietly.

Police leagues in Los Angeles and Minnesota are objecting to the terms of her parole, her attorneys are nervous after Olson was mistakenly released and sent back to prison a year ago, and those in her home state have conflicting views about the return of a woman with two identities – a quiet, caring community volunteer and a domestic terrorist.

Olson was freed by California corrections officials a year ago when they miscalculated her parole date. She was re-arrested five days later as she was about to board a flight to Minnesota, the state she adopted as her home during a quarter-century on the run.

“After what happened last year, I think she won’t feel comfortable until she’s back in Minnesota,” said David Nickerson, one of her lawyers. “She is just anxious about getting out ... until she’s home, until she knows it’s real. She wants to be with her family.”

Olson, 62, is scheduled to be released Tuesday from the Central California Women’s Facility in Chowchilla, about 150 miles southeast of San Francisco. Where she goes next has become a point of contention.

Police leagues in Los Angeles and Minnesota are objecting to having her paroled to Minnesota. Both have written to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, urging him to have Olson serve her parole in California, where her crimes were committed.

Former Los Angeles police officer John Hall was a target in one of the 1975 attempted pipe bombings by the Symbionese Liberation Army, best known for its kidnapping of newspaper heiress Patty Hearst.

The group planted bombs beneath two police cars, but both failed to detonate.

Olson was born in Fargo and spent her early years in Barnesville, Minn.

“That bomb should have gone off that night,” Hall said. “I would have been just one of many people that would have been dead. It just brings up a lot of anger knowing that she’s going to be released.”

The pipe bomb, packed with nails, failed to explode as Hall and his partner pulled their cruiser away from an International House of Pancakes in Los Angeles’ Hollywood Division on an August night. A similar device was found under another police car miles away.

Hall recalls a girl about 8 years old watching from the restaurant.

“That little girl was waving at us as we drove off. If that bomb would have gone off, she would have been killed along with her family,” said Hall, who served 31 years with the department.

“I haven’t forgiven her (Olson) in the least for what she’s done and what she could have done to many more innocent people.”

The SLA had a long list of high-profile crimes during the mid-1970s, including the Hearst kidnapping, assassinating Oakland Schools Superintendent Marcus Foster and the shotgun slaying of 42-year-old Myrna Opsahl.

The mother of four was depositing a church collection at the Crocker National Bank near Sacramento when the group robbed it.

Olson, her red hair turned long ago to gray, was born Kathleen Ann Soliah and later grew up in Palmdale, in the high desert north of Los Angeles.


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