[sixties-l] The Tale of Sara Jane Olson

From: radman (resist@best.com)
Date: 12/18/00

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    Cover Story  Vol 21  Issue 1045  12/13/00
    By Leyla Kokmen
    When Sara Jane Olson goes to court in coming weeks, a Los Angeles jury will 
    be asked to pass judgment on the most divisive time in recent American history.
    10:40 am November 17, 2000
    The man rises from his seat at the back of the courtroom. He marches across 
    the well-worn gray linoleum to a podium, where he stands and reads from a 
    scrap of paper. His back is to the gallery, and the holstered gun at his 
    side is clearly visible. His broad shoulders shake with anger as he points 
    across the room at a slender woman with a mop of layered strawberry-blond 
    hair.  Seated between two lawyers, she cups her angular chin in her palms 
    and leans her elbows on the table in front of her. In his dress blues, Los 
    Angeles Police Officer John Hall makes a towering figure; but right now, he 
    is talking about his fear.
    "[They] were using the Web site to solicit terrorist acts against me and my 
    family," Hall begins, decrying Sara Jane Olson as a member of a onetime 
    terrorist group called the Symbionese Liberation Army. "The same as she did 
    with the bombs under our car!"
     From across the room, the gravelly voice of one of Olson's defense 
    attorneys, J. Tony Serra, interrupts, objecting. "He is trying to prejudice 
    the jury through the press," Serra shouts. "She was not a member of the SLA!"
    Unswayed by the outburst, Hall continues, his irate voice rising to match 
    Serra's fervent pitch. "My wife, my children, my grandchildren live in 
    fear," he quakes. "Now today, into the future, as long as we live in this 
    home, they can take any action to terrorize my family. I'm afraid. And I'm 
    angry." His face crimson with rage, his muscles tense, Hall turns and 
    storms back to his seat, crossing his arms tightly in front of his chest, a 
    flash of bitterness in his eyes.
    It is a balmy Friday morning in downtown Los Angeles. It is the year 2000, 
    but here in Judge James Ideman's courtroom on the ninth floor of Los 
    Angeles County's Criminal Courts Building, there is a pronounced aftertaste 
    of the 1970s. This is where the State of California will try Sara Jane 
    Olson, formerly known as Kathleen Soliah, for allegedly placing pipe bombs 
    under two LAPD cars in 1975--a charge she denies.
    Hall's anger at Olson is an electric reminder of the same acrimony that 
    erupted violently, two decades ago, between the Los Angeles police and the 
    SLA. First came the L.A. standoff in which the cops killed the band's 
    leader and most of its members, then the alleged bombing under scrutiny 
    here, supposedly a retaliation for the massacre. But as much as this scene 
    has catapulted the courtroom back 25 years to an era of upheaval in this 
    country, it also highlights how the  world has changed since that era of 
    activism. At the center of the emotional swirl sits Olson, and each side 
    has molded her into its own symbol. Her foes call her a terrorist filled 
    with hatred of the police. Her friends call her a kindhearted activist who 
    has become a scapegoat for a corrupt legal system.
    At today's pretrial hearing, the prosecution is asking that the judge 
    revoke Olson's bail, she's out on $1 million, most of which was raised by 
    family and friends. The district attorneys say she sat idly by as the Sara 
    Olson Defense Fund Committee posted on the Internet the home addresses and 
    phone numbers of Hall and James Bryan, who is now retired from the force. 
    That information briefly appeared on the committee's Web site which is run 
    out of the Twin Cities. The addresses were contained in a court document 
    that was filed publicly, but was then sealed by the court the next day. 
    Committee members insist no malice was intended, that it was a simple 
    oversight, and that they took down the information as soon as they learned 
    of the snafu.
    Los Angeles Superior Court Judge James Ideman considers the request, a 
    gruff scowl on his jowly face. He concludes that he does not have the 
    authority to revoke Olson's bail. "I do not have evidence that she was 
    personally involved in this occurrence," he begins. "In some respects, she 
    has responsibility for acts taken in her name." He turns to address Olson, 
    sternly, like a crotchety elder reprimanding a small child. "This is a 
    dangerous game.  This is not the type of conduct that should be indulged 
    in. If you have any influence with the people responsible for the Web site, 
    advise them that they are not helping your cause."
    Olson quietly nods as Ideman continues his diatribe. "I am cautioning the 
    defense that the actions are reprehensible. I cannot think of a legitimate 
    reason to publish the home addresses of these officers," he scolds. "This 
    is typical SLA conduct. It amounts to intimidation of witnesses."
    An exasperated sigh rises from one the gallery's hard wooden pews, filled 
    by Olson's family and friends. Her husband and one daughter are there, 
    along with friends from Minneapolis, friends she's made in Los Angeles, and 
    members of her legal team. Some grumble, some simply shake their head.
    An hour ago this crew sat downstairs at a corner table in the cafeteria, 
    chatting and laughing, a scene more like a family reunion than a court 
    appearance. But after coming through the metal detectors and entering this 
    courtroom, which is guarded by four sheriff's deputies, the stakes are 
    demonstrably higher, the mood more somber. If she's convicted, Olson could 
    spend the rest of her life in prison.
    Little of substance happens in the courtroom today. Most of the hearing is 
    dedicated to the Web-site debacle. The original reason for this court 
    appearance, however, was to allow the defense to request large quantities 
    of evidence from the prosecution that Olson's attorneys need to go over in 
    order to be ready for trial. It's the usual standoff about discovery: The 
    prosecution says it has turned over the evidence; the defense says it 
    hasn't seen it. Ideman postpones a decision on the matter, pondering 
    whether to bring in an outside party to keep track of all the evidence. By 
    the end of the hearing, the defense is no closer to getting the information 
    it needs. (Since then Ideman has appointed another judge to sort out the 
    discovery morass.)
    Still, Ideman is adamant that the case begin as planned, on January 
    8.  (Several weeks later, Ideman was reassigned to another court; at press 
    time it appeared likely that Olson's trial would be postponed.) The trial 
    could go on for six months, even a year, simply because of its massive 
    scope.  Although Olson was indicted in 1976 by a grand jury for attempted 
    murder and conspiracy, Ideman says he will allow evidence from 22 other 
    unindicted felony counts ascribed to the SLA, even though Olson herself is 
    not accused of those crimes.
    "Ideman has allowed in the kitchen sink," says Laurie Levenson, a professor 
    at Los Angeles's Loyola Law School, who has been keeping an eye on the 
    case. "The reason for that is to take jurors back in time to a period where 
    radical groups posed a real threat to the community. The idea is to make 
    the crimes look so bad that any connection with the movement makes the 
    defendant look guilty." It's a strategy, Levenson says, that not all judges 
    would employ, but then, "[Ideman] is perceived as one of the more 
    prosecution-oriented judges."
    The People of California vs. Sara Jane Olson has mushroomed into a trial 
    not just of one woman, accused of conspiring to commit murder, but of the 
    whole Symbionese Liberation Army, perhaps even an entire era of radical, 
    sometimes violent protest. Only a jury can decide whether Olson was indeed 
    a member of the SLA and whether she did in fact plant those bombs under the 
    cars of officers Hall and Bryan. Only a jury can determine which image of 
    history, and of Sara Olson, should stand.
    [more info at web site above] 

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