Guilty, a la carte

Posted: Nov 19, 2001 12:00 AM
Forget all that '70s radical talk about equal justice for the poor and minorities. Former Symbionese Liberation Army activist Sara Jane Olson, the former Kathleen Soliah, has adopted an old-fashioned defense: Radicals used to evoke race and poverty as mitigating factors in a criminal case. Olson's boosters point to the fact that she is a doctor's wife, soccer mom and model middle-class housewife. As a petition asking the Los Angeles district attorney to drop all charges argues, Olson "is a 54-year-old housewife and mother of three daughters, who is being prosecuted for an alleged crime that took place in Los Angeles over 25 years ago" -- the attempted bombing of two police cars with police in them. "A highly respected figure in her home of St. Paul, Minn., where she has resided for the last two decades, Ms. Olson has dedicated her life to serving her community." To Olson, everything is old news: the attempted bombings that could have killed L.A. police officers and her Oct. 31 guilty plea to two counts of attempting to blow up two cop cars. No sooner than she had pleaded guilty than she walked out of the courtroom to proclaim her innocence. Called back to the bench to explain herself, Olson told Judge Larry Fidler that she really is guilty. Her attorney stipulated there was "a factual basis" for her plea. Then, last week, Olson insisted she's innocent and wants to go to trial. The criminal justice system has indulged her whims, so why shouldn't she treat her guilt or innocence in the same cavalier manner that matrons pick new drapes? The middle-class defense worked back home. Olson's Minnesota neighbors were so affected that One of Their Own had to stand trial for the 1975 would-be bombings -- after authorities finally apprehended Olson in her minivan in 1999 -- that they raised $1 million to allow the fugitive to stay out of jail as she awaited trial. One neighbor told the Los Angeles Times: "I don't know all the details. I don't know anyone who does. I just think a fair punishment will be hard to decide -- and no matter what, it will be sad." (Sad for her maybe, but not for the two cops who drove the car under which the first pipe bomb was found. One left law enforcement after the event, but both had the privilege of seeing their home addresses printed on Olson's defense fund website.) Nationwide, patrons subsidized Olson's light-hearted way of cashing in on her notoriety. They bought her cookbook, "Serving Time: America's Most Wanted Recipes." Friends made much of Olson's gourmet cooking, as if that makes a difference. You've come a long way, baby. Move over, Twinkie defense. The Pesto defense has arrived. The delicious part about Olson's guilty plea was how her attorneys complained that, after Sept. 11, Olson can't get a fair trial. San Francisco attorney J. Tony Serra complained, "Sara Jane Olson is truly a victim of Sept. 11." (Maybe someone can buy her a tombstone next to some dead New York firemen.) Olson would have been tried sooner, if her lawyers hadn't won six delays for this overdue trial. So, if their dubious lament is true, well, justice works in mysterious ways. If anything, the system has been too kind to Olson. She was a fugitive who didn't turn herself in, yet authorities let her out on bail. Prosecutors sought to double her bail after her defense website printed the home addresses of her almost-victims, but a judge refused the request. And still she's a professional victim. Her website features a photo of Olson standing before a banner that proclaims, "Free all political prisoners." But Olson is a political criminal. When the police killed six of her SLA buddies in a shootout, she charged that her friends were "viciously attacked and murdered by 500 pigs." It apparently didn't matter that her friends were involved in the murders of Oakland schools chief Marcus Foster and housewife Myrna Opsahl, a mother of four. Recently, Olson boasted: "I'm still the same person I was then. I don't have any regrets." Good for her. In fact, there's a special place where Olson could enjoy being the same person she's always been, free from regret. It's called prison.