---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Fri, 16 Nov 2001 12:34:28 -0800
From: radtimes <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: Waffling Again, 70's Radical Asks to Change Guilty Plea
Waffling Again, 70's Radical Asks to Change Guilty Plea
November 15, 2001
New York Times
By JAMES STERNGOLD
LOS ANGELES, Nov. 14 - In court sessions over the past two weeks, Sara Jane
Olson hemmed, dodged and protested. But she said yes, on three occasions,
when asked if she was certain she wanted to plead guilty to charges of
plotting to bomb two police cruisers in 1975.
The weight of her possible sentence and the weight of her old convictions
appear to still be bending her highly malleable resolve. Ms. Olson has
reversed herself yet again and filed a petition seeking to withdraw her
plea, something that legal experts said would be extremely difficult to do.
The State Superior Court judge handling the case, Larry Paul Fidler, set a
hearing for Nov. 28. The Los Angeles County district attorney's office has
made no formal response yet, but officials there said they would fight
revisiting the matter.
"She has had three chances, in court, to change her mind on this," Sandi
Gibbons, a spokeswoman for the office, said. "We don't think there's any
reason for her to withdraw this plea now."
Ms. Olson, 54, who changed her name from Kathleen Soliah after fleeing the
indictment more than two decades ago, has transformed herself into an
upper-middle class homemaker in St. Paul, with three grown daughters and a
flair for acting in community theater.
She was found and arrested two years ago and vowed to fight the charges. But
the prosecutors have said they have damning, if circumstantial, evidence
linking Ms. Olson to the radical Symbionese Liberation Army, to bomb-making
equipment and to the large pipe bombs that failed to detonate after being
placed under the police cars.
Ever since making a surprise guilty plea on Oct. 31, Ms. Olson has visibly
battled to recapture and express the political passion that drove her to
become a dissident who was admittedly close to the S.L.A.
Minutes after entering her plea to two felony counts, she renounced it
outside the courtroom. Not only did she have no regrets about what she had
done 26 years ago, she said, but "I'm still the same person I was then."
That prompted Judge Fidler to order her back to court last week and to ask
her in clear, explicit terms whether she was in fact guilty of the charges
and if she wished to plead guilty.
She hesitated. She insisted she had not actually handled any bombs and made
a show of her contempt for the proceedings.
But she stated that she had aided and abetted the conspiracy and said "yes"
twice in response to the judge's repeated question of whether she wanted to
enter the plea.
Ms. Olson has since taken a different view.
"After deeper reflection, I realize I cannot plead guilty when I know I am
not," she said in a declaration that was filed on Tuesday under seal and
then unsealed this morning.
She added that, after disavowing her first guilty plea and then being forced
to return to court to decide yet again, she had lost her nerve. Now, she
insisted, she had found it.
"I was prepared to go to trial after I was informed of your order for a
second hearing regarding my guilty plea," she wrote in her declaration to
the judge. "Cowardice prevented me from doing what I knew I should: throw
caution aside and move forward to trial. I am not second-guessing my
decision as much as I have found the courage to take what I know is the
While it is not uncommon for defendants who plead guilty to have second
thoughts, several legal experts said that it was rare for judges in state
court to allow pleas to be withdrawn.
Ira Reiner, a former district attorney here, said: "It appears she simply
feels regret, and that is not a basis for a withdrawal of a plea. She would
normally have to establish some significant irregularity."
He said the usual grounds for withdrawal were a defendant's failure to
receive adequate legal advice or to understand the consequences of a guilty
plea. In her declaration, Ms. Olson called her two principal lawyers
"brilliant," so it seemed unlikely she would complain of poor
Mr. Reiner said that perhaps Ms. Olson's best approach would be to try to
convince Judge Fidler that she repeatedly lied when she acknowledged her
guilt in court and that she was telling the truth now.
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