- Onetime member of the Symbionese Liberation Army
- Participated in a 1975 bank robbery in which one innocent person was killed
- Participated in several 1975 bombing attempts
- Was arrested in 1999 and sentenced to 20 years to life in prison
Sara Jane Olson (known as Kathleen Soliah until 1977) is a former member of the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA), a revolutionary terrorist group founded by ex-convict Donald DeFreeze.
On May 17, 1974, DeFreeze and five of his cohorts, including Soliah’s best friend Angela Atwood, were killed in a shootout with police in their Los Angeles hideout. Soliah organized a memorial rally at “Ho Chi Minh Park” in Berkeley the following month, where she accused 500 police officers of having murdered Atwood.
The surviving members of the SLA came to offer Soliah comfort and support, and she subsequently joined their movement. According to CourtTV.com, Soliah stole wallets to make fake IDs, helped plan and carry out bank robberies, and participated in several bombing attempts in 1975.
Soliah also took part in the robbery of the Crocker National Bank in Caarmichael, California on April 21, 1975, during which bank customer Myrna Opsahl was shot to death. Four months later, Soliah planted bombs under two LAPD cruisers; the explosives, however, failed to detonate.
After that, Soliah went underground and ultimately ended up in Minneapolis, Minnesota, under the alias "Sara Jane Olson" in 1977. She met Fred Peterson in 1979 and married him the following year. Together they had three daughters. Olson became the quintessential “soccer mom,” running her children to school activities and participating in many community service projects and leftist causes.
When Olson was finally found by the FBI in 1999, she was arrested and brought to trial for her long-ago crimes of explosives possession and attempted murder. Patty Hearst’s testimony helped convict Olson, who was sentenced to serve 20 years to life in prison (a sentence that was later reduced to 14 years).
Then on November 7, 2002, Olson and three other former SLA members -- William Harris, Emily Montague (Harris) and Michael Bortin -- pleaded guilty to second-degree murder charges in the death of Opsahl. The court added six more years to Olson’s sentence.
On March 17, 2003, Olson was granted early release based on good-behavior credits she had earned by doing jobs at the prison. Four days later, however, she was re-arrested at the Los Angeles Airport after California correctional authorities concluded she had been mistakenly released due to an administrative error.
Said Scott Kernan, the correction department's chief deputy secretary of adult operations: "Sara Jane Olson's case is extremely complicated, given the amount of changes to the sentencing laws that have occurred over the last 30 years. Upon request for review, [Corrections Department] case records staff immediately reevaluated this sentence calculation and, in coordination with our legal affairs unit and the Board of Parole hearings, has revised the sentence accordingly to ensure that all appropriate time is served."
It was determined that Olson would not be eligible for release until March 17, 2009.
The story of Olson’s involvement with the SLA is told in Sharon D. Hendry’s book Soliah: The Sara Jane Olson Story.