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Sheriff and FBI join forces to probe old SLA case

The Associated Press
Thursday February 15, 2001

LOS ANGELES — Authorities said Wednesday that they will reinvestigate a deadly 1975 bank robbery for links to the Symbionese Liberation Army, even as a former member is tried here for attempted murder. 

Efforts to revisit the long-dormant Northern California case were sparked by Los Angeles authorities, who are prosecuting Sara Jane Olson on charges of planting pipe bombs under Los Angeles police cars 25 years ago. 

The bombs didn’t go off. 

A Sacramento County sheriff’s spokesman said the key witness in both cases would be newspaper heiress Patty Hearst, convicted of armed bank robbery but recently pardoned by President Clinton. 

Hearst has identified Olson, who changed her name from Kathleen Soliah, as one of the robbers from the defunct revolutionary group who invaded a Carmichael bank. 

“My client, Sara Jane Olson, had nothing to do with the Carmichael bank robbery and murder,” said Shawn Chapman, Olson’s Los Angeles lawyer. “Patty Hearst is not a credible witness and will not be a credible witness in the Los Angeles or Carmichael prosecutions.” 

Myrna Opsahl, a 42-year-old mother of four, was killed while depositing her church collection money at the Crocker National Bank on April 21, 1975. 

Only one person – Olson’s brother, Steven Soliah – was ever charged in the case, and he was acquitted in a federal trial. 

Sacramento County prosecutors said last month that they wouldn’t charge anyone else in the case. But a Sheriff’s Department press statement implied that decision isn’t firm. 

Olson’s Los Angeles trial, scheduled for April 30, “will serve as a barometer to determine the quality of Patricia Hearst’s testimony, which is critical to the Sacramento prosecution efforts,” sheriff’s Sgt. James E. Lewis said. 

Olson’s lawyer said she is confident that her client will be proved innocent in both cases. 

The Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department and the FBI will investigate the bank robbery. Lewis said investigators hope that new scientific testing procedures “will add new life to the investigation and make prosecution possible.” 

Among other things, shotgun pellets taken from Opsahl’s body will be tested to see if they are linked to ammunition seized from an SLA safehouse in San Francisco. 

Los Angeles prosecutors have said their research on the Los Angeles case uncovered unspecified new information about the bank robbery. 

“Prosecutors felt it was their duty to tell Sacramento about the new evidence,” said Sandi Gibbons, a spokeswoman for the Los Angeles County district attorney. 

However, she objected to a statement in the press statement that said there was an agreement between authorities in the two cities to have the Los Angeles case precede any attempts at prosecuting Olson in Sacramento. 

“That’s just not true and we’re personally aggrieved that this misinformation has been put out,” Gibbons said. 


Local prosecutors would be glad to assist in the Sacramento probe if they are asked, she added.