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By Steve Karnowski, Published March 19 2009

Former 1970s radical Sara Jane Olson returns home to Minnesota

62-year-old faces controversy over serving year of parole in state
ST. PAUL – Former 1970s radical Sara Jane Olson returned to her adopted home state of Minnesota on Wednesday amid controversy over whether she should have been allowed to serve out her parole outside of California.

Olson and her husband arrived at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport early Wednesday evening and eluded reporters and photographers awaiting her arrival. A KMSP-TV crew did question Olson, but she declined comment before driving away, the station reported.

Nearly 2½ hours later, a car arrived at Olson’s home in St. Paul, and she and her husband sprinted into the house.

Olson, 62, served half of a 14-year sentence for pleading guilty in the deadly 1975 robbery of a Sacramento-area bank and in placing pipe bombs under Los Angeles police cars.

At the time, Olson was known as Kathleen Soliah, a member of the Symbionese Liberation Army, a violent group that sought to overthrow the government and was best known for kidnapping newspaper heiress Patty Hearst.

The St. Paul police union and Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty are against Olson being allowed to serve her one-year parole in Minnesota, arguing that she should serve it in the state where her crimes were committed.

On Wednesday, Los Angeles’ police union voiced its disapproval of the arrangement in a letter to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

The Los Angeles Police Protective League said Olson should not be allowed to go home given that she was a fugitive and not a legal resident of Minnesota at the time of her 1999 arrest in St. Paul, where she was living underground as a doctor’s wife and mother of three daughters.

The California penal code states parolees can be transferred to another state only if the offender was a legal resident of the other state prior to incarceration, the league said. The organization also questioned whether Olson’s release to Minnesota was in the public’s interest because her family there could be motivated to cover for her if she violates the terms of her parole.

Olson’s attorney, David Nickerson, called the league’s claims “just plain idiotic.”

Olson was legally a Minnesota resident who wasn’t aware of her California indictment because it was filed under seal months after she fled the state, he said.

“Every study that looked into the matter found that parolees do much better and are much less likely to re-offend if they rejoin their family,” he said in e-mailed comments. “They just want to punish her more. They are simply being vindictive.”

A Schwarzenegger spokeswoman said he’d have no immediate comment. But Schwarzenegger earlier said he would not override the decision by his state’s prison officials.

California has more than 1,000 parolees living out of state.

Olson’s family lives in the same St. Paul home where they lived when she was arrested in 1999. The neighbors in the upper-middle-class neighborhood either weren’t home Wednesday afternoon or declined to speak to reporters.

Patty McCutcheon, who lives next door, said she had never met Olson but likes the rest of her family.

“I moved in five years ago, so she was already gone,” McCutcheon said. “But her family was the first to welcome me to the neighborhood.”

Later, a woman who said she was one of Olson’s daughters arrived at the house Wednesday evening and said, “I don’t want to talk about it.” She smiled as she got into a vehicle that was waiting for her and drove off.

Lynn Musgrave, a Twin Cities theater director and sound designer who directed Olson in a couple of productions, said she understood why police and some others opposed her return to Minnesota. But Musgrave said Olson “has now paid her debt to society.”

“She is a different person now than she was,” Musgrave said. “We all are. We were all activists in the ’70s and expressed ourselves in different ways. Her choices were regrettable, but that’s behind her.”

She said she expected Olson to return to doing some sort of community work.

“I expect she’s going to want to live a very private life for a long time,” Musgrave said.

Olson’s church, Minnehaha United Methodist, issued a statement Wednesday welcoming her back to Minnesota.

“We’re looking forward to her being able to resettle in with her family and resume her life,” the Rev. Cooper Wiggen said. He said Olson’s husband, Dr. Gerald “Fred” Peterson, remained active in the church.

“Different folks have been pen pals and different folks have reached out to her spouse and kids in informal ways,” Wiggen said. “We’ve been connected pretty well.”