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Former SLA Fugitive Olson Gets Jail

Sara Jane Olson was sentenced to 20 years to life in prison for her role in the plot to bomb Los Angeles police cars in 1975, reports CBS News Correspondent Steve Futterman.

Before the sentence was announced, Olson briefly addressed the court, saying she never wanted to hurt anyone, and she apologized to anyone that she harmed. "Forgive me for the pain I've brought you," the former fugitive said.

But she denied trying to murder officers by planting bombs under the two Los Angeles police cars to avenge the deaths of six SLA members during a shootout with authorities in 1974. The bombs didn't explode.

Olson watched tearfully as friends and family, including her mother, husband and daughter, testified that she had been a model mother and citizen during two decades on the run during which she lived in the suburbs of St. Paul, Minn.

The court also heard from two Los Angeles police officers, described as the intended victims of the Symbionese Liberation Army car-bombing plot. One of them described Olson as a terrorist.

Prosecutor Michael Latin said that one of the bombs under an LAPD patrol car failed to explode only because the two metal contacts came within a fraction of an inch of each other but never made contact.

Superior Court Judge Larry Fidler sentenced Olson to two consecutive terms of 10 years to life.

Defense lawyers believe Olson's sentence will later be reduced to about five years by the state Board of Prisons and that she could be paroled in less than three, but first she must face a murder charge filed in Sacramento County, California stemming from a 1975 SLA bank robbery in which a bystander was shot and killed.

After the sentencing, which was broadcast live, Olson was arraigned on the murder charge she now faces in Sacramento: the 1975 SLA bank holdup in which a bystander, Myrna Opsahl, a mother of four, was killed. A not guilty plea was entered on her behalf.

Olson has long denied taking part in the robbery in Carmichael, a suburb of Sacramento. Four other former SLA members also face charges in the case.

Olson's bail in the murder case was set at $1 million. A group of friends and family from Minnesota had raised an equal amount earlier to allow her to meet bail on the bombing charge.

Olson, 55, was a fugitive in the bombing conspiracy case for more than 20 years until her arrest two years ago in Minnesota. She had changed her name from Kathleen Soliah, married a doctor and had three children.

Before Olson was sentenced, her daughter sobbed aloud as she told the court: "She is one of the best mothers anybody would ever want."

Her husband, Gerald Peterson, said the two had been happily married for 23 years.

"To my lovely wife Sara, California is now entrusted to clothe you, to feed you, shelter you and correct you and try you," he said. "But this family of ours and our dear friends will not be diminished in our love for you and our respect for you. We will always stand by you until yocome home."

Olson then addressed her family and friends.

"I still maintain I didn't participate in events in Los Angeles," she said. "I hope you'll forgive me the pain I have brought you....I am a person in court today who truly, while grateful for all that I had — my life has had quite a lot as you can see.

"For any mistakes that I have made, I accept responsibility for any pain I have caused. I accept responsibility and I am truly sorry."

The SLA began in the fall of 1973 when a handful of white, college-educated children of middle-class families adopted a seven-headed snake as their symbol, a black ex-convict as their leader and the phrase, "Death to the fascist insect that preys upon the life of the people" as their slogan.

The group derived its name from "symbiosis," a biological term referring to unlike organisms coexisting harmoniously for mutual benefit.

The SLA claimed responsibility for the murder of Oakland Schools Superintendent Marcus Foster, because he supposedly favored a police plan for students to carry identification.

But the group is best known for the 1974 kidnapping of newspaper heiress Patricia Hearst, who later joined the group in robbing banks and could become a key witness in the Carmichael trials. The long-dormant case gathered legal momentum after Olson's arrest.

Olson's bombing case had seesawed since Oct. 31, when she announced a surprise decision to plead guilty to possessing bombs with intent to murder police officers.

Her plea was immediately thrown into question when she told reporters she was really innocent and had pleaded guilty because the Sept. 11 attacks had created a climate in which anyone accused of domestic terrorism could not be acquitted.

She was ordered back into court, where she eventually lost a battle to withdraw her plea and go to trial.

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