Features

Pardon may not stop Hearst disclosure

The Associated Press
Wednesday February 28, 2001

LOS ANGELES — Despite a presidential pardon, Patty Hearst’s criminal record could be mentioned at trial if she testifies against Sara Jane Olson, the former fugitive accused of a Symbionese Liberation Army plot to bomb police officers, experts said. 

Evidentiary laws probably will bar defense lawyers from bringing up her federal bank robbery conviction because of the pardon by former President Clinton. 

But that pardon didn’t cover her no-contest plea to state charges of felony assault and robbery for a shootout at a Los Angeles sporting goods store. Conceivably, defense attorneys might mention the record in an effort to impeach her honesty as a witness. 

Olson, 53, is an alleged former member of the SLA, a defunct revolutionary group. She is charged with conspiracy to murder police officers with pipe bombs placed under patrol cars in Los Angeles 25 years ago.  

The bombs did not explode. She was a fugitive until her 1999 arrest in St. Paul, Minn., where she had become a doctor’s wife and mother of three. 

Hearst was kidnapped by the SLA in 1974 and later was convicted of taking part in a bank holdup with them. A security camera showed her wielding a semiautomatic weapon, and the photograph was widely publicized. 

She has claimed Olson took part in SLA crimes and is expected to be a key witness at the trial, which is scheduled to begin April 30. 

Despite the pardon, jurors are unlikely to be ignorant of Hearst’s history, said Laurie Levenson, a professor at Loyola Law School. 

“Pretending no one will know about the conviction is kind of like trying to say, ’O.J. Simpson never went on trial,”’ Levenson said. 

“Jurors who have been on the planet for the last 25 years are going to have some idea about why she is famous.” 

Stuart Hanlon, Olson’s former attorney who remains an adviser in the case, said that even if the jury hears about Hearst’s pardon, he doubts that it would have much impact. 

“Everyone knows Clinton’s pardons are suspect,” Hanlon said.  

“I think a lot of people don’t understand why she did get a pardon, other than she is a Hearst. I don’t think it is going to play a major role in the trial at all.”