Judge refuses to recognize SLA as terrorist organization

By LINDA DEUTSCH, AP Special Correspondent
Friday October 26, 2001

LOS ANGELES - The judge in the attempted-murder trial of former Symbionese Liberation Army fugitive Sara Jane Olson on Thursday rejected a request by prosecutors to formally declare that the SLA was “a terrorist organization.” 

“The motion is denied,” Superior Court Judge Larry Paul Fidler said.  

But he noted his ruling covered only the period of pretrial motion hearings on challenges to searches in the case and could be renewed at a later time. 

He noted that “such testimony may have a subliminal effect,” and refused to allow it. 

Defense lawyers have argued that the trial should be delayed because the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks will prejudice jurors against Olson, who is accused of trying to kill Los Angeles police officers with pipe bombs in 1975. 

Prosecutors have described the crimes with which she is charged as domestic terrorism.  

Although the charges date back 26 years, defense lawyers worried that jurors could equate the actions of the SLA with the current siege of terrorism. 

“It’s a real concern,” attorney Shawn Snider Chapman said outside court.  

She called the prosecution attempt to inject the concept of terrorism into the case as “very transparent.” 

Chapman said that questionnaires which will be given to prospective jurors next week are being rewritten to address terrorism concerns. 

One question, she said, will ask “whether the events of Sept. 11 would make it more difficult to sit on a case where the defendant is charged with terrorist acts.” 

Deputy District Attorneys Michael Latin and Eleanor Hunter sought the declaration from the judge as they fought a move by the defense to suppress items seized in warrantless searches in 1975.  

The prosecutors planned to argue that police were justified in searching because of “exigent circumstances” which included knowledge that the SLA was involved in terrorism. 

But Chapman said outside court that some officers may not have known anything about the SLA when they conducted searches.  

They swept into several apartments and a mailbox rental office in the San Francisco Bay area after the arrest of newspaper heiress Patricia Hearst, who was kidnapped by the SLA and then joined the group. 

Among items found in the searches were parts of a bomb and 200 feet of safety fuse which prosecutors say were ordered through the mail in letters handwritten by Olson. 

The judge refused a defense bid to challenge the reliability of handwriting analysis and turned down another defense challenge involving fingerprint evidence. He said both are regularly used in courts. 

Olson, 54, is charged with conspiring to kill police officers by planting bombs under police cars.  

The bombs did not explode. Olson was a fugitive until two years ago, living as a wife and mother in Minnesota. 

Her doctor husband and their three daughters have been attending court hearings along with a group of her supporters. 

Outside court, Chapman said Olson is anxious to tell her story in court. 

“She wants to testify,” the attorney said. “She is a very vocal and passionate woman. She’s innocent and has sat silent for a long time. She’d like the world to know that she’s innocent.” 

The judge delayed further hearings until Oct. 31. The absence of Olson’s lead lawyer, J. Tony Serra, who is involved in another trial, has stalled progress in Olson’s trial.