Prosecutors ask court to jump-start SLA trial

The Associated Press
Tuesday May 22, 2001

LOS ANGELES — Prosecutors told a state appeals court Monday they believe the Sara Jane Olson defense team is trying to delay her attempted-murder trial until “years from now when the witnesses have all died.” 

In a bid to get the trial started, Deputy District Attorneys Michael Latin and Eleanor Hunter asked the 2nd District Court of Appeals to reconsider their decision allowing a postponement of the trial until September. 

Defense lawyers J. Tony Serra and Shawn Chapman have said they need more time to plow through a mountain of evidence dating back 25 years in the case of the former Symbionese Liberation Army fugitive. 

The appeals court, by a vote of 2-1, ordered the trial judge, Larry P. Fidler, to delay matters until Sept. 4 suggesting there was no pressing reason to force defense attorneys to begin trial when they say they are unprepared. 

Fidler, who took over the case this spring after the original judge was transferred, rejected a defense bid to delay the trial for five months and questioned the rising costs of the Olson defense, which is being partially funded by public money. 

In their appeal, defense lawyers argued that they were unprepared and that starting the trial soon would have denied Olson due process and a fair trial. 

“The prosecution has had 25 years to prepare its case and the unlimited resources of the city, county, state and federal governments, (while) the defense has had very little time to prepare,” said their written argument. 

In their new legal brief, the prosecutors say that the defense has had ample time and plenty of court-appointed help in going through evidence. 

“Instead of getting better prepared for trial as time progresses, Olson’s defense team is less and less willing to try the case,” said the prosecutors. 

Their latest request for continuance, they said, asks for “a reasonable time to prepare.” 

“The request is vague and indefinite,” said the motion. ”... To Olson and her team, ’reasonable’ time means years from now when the witnesses have all died.” 

The road to trial has become even more complicated in recent days with the filing of criminal charges against Serra and Chapman by the city attorney’s office. They are accused of disclosing the addresses and phone numbers of two police witnesses. 

That action, the lawyers say, may force them out of the case entirely because defending themselves will create a conflict of interest with their client. Hearings are scheduled on that issue before the June 22 date set for the appeals court to hear arguments. 

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.