Lawyer: Olson felt ‘coercion’ to plead guilty in SLA case

By Linda Deutsch The Associated Press
Wednesday November 28, 2001

LOS ANGELES — An attorney for former Symbionese Liberation Army fugitive Sara Jane Olson says he was partly to blame for his client pleading guilty to attempting to blow up police cars when she is really innocent. 

In documents filed in Superior Court on Monday, attorney J. Tony Serra characterized Olson as being in “a psychological condition of coercion” when she pleaded guilty to two counts of attempting to explode destructive devices with intent to murder. 

Olson is accused of placing bombs under two police cars in 1975 in what prosecutors say was revenge for a deadly shootout with Los Angeles police the previous year in which six members of the radical SLA were killed. The bombs failed to explode. 

“At no time has Ms. Olson ever conceded to me her factual guilt with respect to any of the charges; in fact, she has always asserted the contrary — that she is innocent of the charges,” Serra wrote. 

Olson has asked Superior Court Judge Larry Paul Fidler to allow her to withdraw her guilty plea and go to trial. Fidler has scheduled a hearing for Dec. 3. 

Serra’s filing on Monday characterized Olson as being in “a psychological condition of coercion” when she pleaded guilty. 

He added that his client pleaded guilty at his urging because he believed Olson couldn’t get a fair trial in the patriotic climate created by the Sept. 11 attacks and because of the prosecution’s intent to depict the SLA and Olson as domestic terrorists. 

“I, in part, take responsibility for creating conditions in her mind that amounted to psychological duress, in regard to pleading guilty,” Serra wrote. 

Olson had signed an agreement on the pleas before entering them in court on Oct. 31. After she told reporters outside court she was really innocent, Fidler ordered her to explain herself. On Nov. 6 she reaffirmed the pleas, but a week later she changed her mind and asked to withdraw them. 

Loyola Law School professor Laurie Levenson said Serra’s declaration appeared to be an attempt to give the court some basis for dismissing the pleas. 

“He’s falling a little bit on his sword to try to give her better grounds for her motion,” Levenson said. 

“It may be too little, too late,” she added. 

Olson’s signed agreement with prosecutors calls for two consecutive terms of 10 years to life, effectively making it a sentence of 20 years to life with possibility of parole in 5 1/4 years. 

Olson, whose given name was Kathleen Soliah, was a fugitive in the case for more than two decades until her capture in Minnesota in 1999.