LOS ANGELES – The inside story of the 1974 Symbionese Liberation Army shootout is not relevant to the defense of former SLA fugitive Sara Jane Olson, a judge ruled Friday in denying her access to 25-year-old files.
Superior Court Judge James Ideman rejected a defense argument that records on the shootout investigation could explain why Olson fled, changed her identity and disappeared after the shootout.
Defense attorney Shawn Chapman argued that disclosure of records could show that the SLA members were targeted by police and that Olson fled because “she felt so in fear of her life.”
“If there was evidence that they were targeted and it was a homicide, that would support Ms. Olson’s claim,” Chapman said.
But Ideman said there was no way that Olson would have been privy to inside information at the time and thus the records would have no relevance to her state of mind. He said there was ample evidence including TV footage of the shootout to supply what the defense needs for the trial.
“I don’t see where going into details of the shooting is necessary,” the juige said. “There was a shootout and people were killed. What happened happened.”
The prosecution is expected to argue that Olson, formerly known as Kathleen Soliah, was motivated to leave by consciousness of her own guilt in trying to bomb police cars. She denies any involvement in the crimes. The bombs never went off.
Ideman delayed ruling on other motions until Nov. 17. But he said he had privately reviewed personnel records of a former police officer who is scheduled to testify against Olson and believes that his civil claims against her are unsupported.
James Bryan sued Olson after he claimed to have a belated recall that she was involved in an attempted pipe bombing of police cars in 1974. He said the event was so stressful for him that he had to take a disability retirement from the Police Department.
The judge said that if Bryan testifies, the defense would have the right to confront him with formal statements that he made to police years ago in which he failed to indicate the attempted bombing had anything to do with his alleged disability.
“Olson must have an opportunity to confront him with his inconsistencies,” Ideman said. But he said he would not release records unless the witness takes the stand.
Meanwhile, the judge said he will tolerate no more delays in the case.
“We’re going to go to trial on January 8. That’s as set in concrete as can be.”