SLA fugitive defense given time to appeal for delay

The Associated Press
Tuesday May 01, 2001

LOS ANGELES — A judge Monday rejected a bid by former Symbionese Liberation Army fugitive Sara Jane Olson to delay her attempted-murder trial for five months but gave lawyers at least a week to file an appeal. 

Superior Court Judge Larry Fidler said he understood the pressures on the defense to analyze extensive evidence, but that the lawyers have had adequate time to prepare. 

“The motion to continue is denied but I will give you a chance to take a writ,” Fidler said. “The Court of Appeal will treat this as a hot writ and we should have a decision next week.” 

Defense attorney J. Tony Serra said the writ would not be filed with the state’s 2nd District Court of Appeal until next Monday because of the need to gather documents. 

The judge delayed matters until May 9 and said that unless the appeals court intervenes, he would expect to begin hearing pretrial motions then. The trial itself will not begin until a prospective jury panel is called and questioning of prospects begins. Fidler has indicated there could be a gap of several weeks before that occurs. 

The defense has suggested jury selection will take six weeks and the trial six months. 

Serra said the defense is going to the appeals court “not because we fear the evidence but because we want to be ready. We have an innocent client. We want to be able to absorb all the evidence.” 

Olson, who came to court with her husband, three daughters and her mother as well as a group of supporters, told reporters her family is anxious to get the trial behind them. 

“We have put our lives on hold,” she said. “But my lawyers have not had adequate time to prepare.” 

She said the judge’s decision to allow an exploration of the entire SLA history had complicated the case. 

“This is not an indictment just of me but of a generation,” she said. 

Serra told reporters: “They don’t have a viable, winnable case against Sara Jane Olson so they are prosecuting the SLA. It is a strategy born of desperation.” 

Olson, 54, is accused of attempting to murder Los Angeles police officers by planting bombs under police cars in 1975 in retaliation for the deaths of six SLA members in a fiery shootout in 1974. The bombs did not explode. 

Indicted in 1976 under her former name, Kathleen Soliah, she remained a fugitive until her 1999 capture in Minnesota, where she had taken on her new name and was living as a doctor’s wife, mother and active community member. 

Serra and co-counsel Shawn Chapman brought in another lawyer, Stuart Hanlon, who formerly represented Olson. All emphatically argued they were unprepared to proceed, that Olson would be denied a fair trial if they proceeded now, and that the judge was denying her the right to hire experts by imposing a $200,000 cap on publicly paid defense expenses. 

“I’m not cutting Ms. Olson off,” the judge said. “But you are not entitled to a quote-unquote dream team.” 

Serra said outside court that prosecutors have spent $5 million on the case, an estimate denied by district attorney’s spokeswoman Sandi Gibbons. 

“That’s just plain silly,” said Gibbons. “It would mean that our prosecutors are being paid a heck of a lot more than I thought they were.” 

In addition to two prosecutors, she said, the office is using two full-time investigators, one part-time investigator and a paralegal. 

Deputy District Attorneys Michael Latin and Eleanor Hunter told the judge they are ready for trial whenever a firm date is set.