[sixties-l] FBI Reopens Probe of Killing Linked to SLA

From: radman (resist@best.com)
Date: Sat Feb 10 2001 - 16:50:42 EST

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    FBI Reopens Probe of Killing Linked to SLA
    Deadly 1975 holdup of Carmichael bank


    Michael Taylor, <mtaylor@sfchronicle.com>
    Friday, February 9, 2001

    The FBI, spurred on by recent news stories and advances in technology, has
    reopened its investigation into a bank robbery and homicide allegedly
    committed by members of the 1970s terrorist group that kidnapped newspaper
    heiress Patricia Hearst, law enforcement sources said yesterday.
    The robbery of the Crocker National Bank in the Sacramento suburb of
    Carmichael took place April 21, 1975, but the case has lain dormant for
    nearly 26 years. Every Sacramento County district attorney since then has
    refused to press charges, saying there isn't enough evidence to get
    indictments, let alone convictions.
    During the robbery, Myrna Lee Opsahl, the 42-year-old wife of a Sacramento
    surgeon, was shot to death by one of the robbers with a shotgun.
    The crucial evidence that could tip the scales in favor of prosecution
    consists of shotgun pellets taken from Opsahl's body, sources say.
    Laboratory research recently discovered that those pellets match pellets in
    shotgun shells connected to the alleged robbers, according to law
    enforcement sources familiar with the case.
    Now FBI agents are joining forces with investigators from the Sacramento
    County sheriff's
    office to see if there is a way to prosecute six of the eight alleged bank
    robbers in federal court, since a prosecution in state court seems to have
    been ruled out.
    Court records in Los Angeles say the robbery was committed by members of
    the Symbionese Liberation Army, a tiny radical group that was known chiefly
    for its February 1974 kidnapping of Hearst.
    In San Francisco, FBI spokesman Andy Black said he could neither confirm
    nor deny that the bureau is back on the case.
    Other law enforcement sources said, however, that FBI agents met yesterday
    with investigators from the Sacramento sheriff's office and members of the
    Opsahl family to see where to take the case next.
                      ACQUITTAL 25 YEARS AGO
    One of the alleged robbers, Steven Soliah, was tried 25 years ago in
    federal court in Sacramento on charges of robbing the bank. He was
    acquitted, and it is not likely he would be charged again. Another alleged
    robber, Patricia Hearst, was in a getaway car, according to her own memoir
    and court records. She has been given immunity from prosecution if she
    testifies against gang members.
    Hearst is the granddaughter of media baron William Randolph Hearst, founder
    of the Hearst Corp., which owns The Chronicle. She served 21 months of a
    seven- year federal prison term for her conviction on a different SLA bank
    robbery. Her sentence was commuted by President Jimmy Carter in January
    1979. Three weeks ago, President Bill Clinton gave her a full pardon.
    The possible federal prosecution for the Carmichael bank robbery is the
    latest twist in a case whose revival stems from the June 1999 arrest of
    Sara Jane Olson, a Minnesota housewife who was a fugitive for 23 years.
    Back in the mid-1970s, she was known as Kathleen Soliah, she is the sister
    of Steven Soliah, and, according to police and prosecutors, was a key
    figure in helping the terrorist SLA gang while it was on the run from the
    FBI in the mid- 1970s. She was indicted in February 1976 by a Los Angeles
    grand jury on charges of trying to bomb Los Angeles police cars and now, a
    quarter-century later, faces trial in April.
    Los Angeles county prosecutors Michael Latin and Eleanor Hunter, along with
    Opsahl's husband, Dr. Trygve Opsahl, and their son, Dr. Jon Opsahl, have
    been unsuccessfully urging Sacramento County to prosecute the Carmichael
    bank robbery case, saying there's enough evidence to get convictions.
    Most of the evidence consists of hundreds, if not thousands, of items
    seized by the FBI from two SLA safe houses in San Francisco when they
    arrested Hearst, Steven Soliah and SLA members William and Emily Harris in
    September 1975.
                      EVIDENCE GIVEN AWAY
    Over the years, the FBI gave away some crucial evidence, including ski
    masks and wigs, which made any future cases that much harder to prosecute.
    But they kept a number of SLA weapons and many boxes of ammunition.
    Twenty years ago, Hearst's book about her 19 months with the SLA said that
    after the Opsahl slaying, one of the bank robbers buried the possibly
    incriminating shotgun shell in a Sacramento park. Investigators dug up a
    good portion of the park but never found the shell.
    Now, however, with advances in metallurgical science, detectives have been
    able to get a match, supposedly good enough to hold up in court, between
    the pellets taken from Opsahl's body and pellets found in shotgun shells
    seized by federal agents when the SLA was arrested.
    Asked about the new federal investigation, San Francisco attorney Stuart
    Hanlon, who is a consultant to the Olson case and has represented other SLA
    members in the past, said he would be "greatly surprised" if federal
    prosecutors got this case to court.

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