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Sara Jane Olson Sentencing Hearing

Aired January 18, 2002 - 13:26   ET


MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: We want to turn attention to the other side of the country, a Los Angeles courtroom, superior court, where the sentencing hearing continues for Sara Jane Olson, once a member of the Symbionese Liberation Army, which in the mid-'70s gained some notoriety primarily because of a link to the heiress of the newspaper fortune, Patty Hearst, but also because of a series of bank robberies, some which involved fatalities. This sentencing hearing specifically involves a case in which Sara Jane Olson is accused of planting pipe bombs underneath a police cruiser.

Immediately after this sentencing hearing, she will face arrangement on yet another charge, in an unrelated case, also involving the SLA, in the same time frame. That involves a bank robbery in which woman who was depositing some money on behalf of her church was killed. That will happen in this same courtroom.

Other members of the SLA will be arraigned on that same charge of murder.

Let's turn to a couple of experts who have been listening to this arraignment as it has been underway.

There you see Sara Jane Olson, obviously a bit emotional as she is listened to. The last person there was her husband, Dr. Jerrold Peterson. Previously, her mother, Elsie Soliah, was up, talking on behalf of her daughter.

Charles Feldman has been listening to the whole thing.

Charles, just give us the basic jist. We haven't had an opportunity to listen in.

CHARLES FELDMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The sentence is a fixed one, as the judge pointed out, so in effect, all the testimonials are not going to have any impact whatsoever on the sentence that she is going to get.

We've had sort of a small parade of acquaintances of hers, mostly people who knew her as -- right now, we're going to go to the daughter, I believe, who is giving some very emotional testimony.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) She always offered to help at school functions, like hosting games (UNINTELLIGIBLE) sections at the honors spring carnivals at my old elementary school. She would come in daily, to teach students who didn't know English very well, because I went to Spanish school, to teach them so they would be able to better understand what we were talking about.

I remember watching my mom bake the holiday dinners and cookies and weekly supers, and I would just be amazed at how she never looked at a cookbook, and she made such delicious food.

She would sometimes would tell me how to make or cook something or how to do it, and it tasted pretty good. She would by me cake mixes every week, so I could get better at cookies, because I (UNINTELLIGIBLE) take after my mom.

When she got arrested, in the summer of 1999, I had to take over all the cooking. Family members and neighbors would come over, and I would cook, like, quesadillas for dessert for the company. From that summer day, I changed a lot, not just by becoming a teenager, but with this case that involves my mom.

Sometimes I will cry. When I was alone, from that date to today, I miss my mom. (UNINTELLIGIBLE) I'm trying to be just like her, always to have this sparkling smile, to have that (UNINTELLIGIBLE) funny laugh. To have that charismatic appearance (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

She's one of the best mothers (UNINTELLIGIBLE) would ever want. I'm sure if you met her -- my mom is just like a Stevie Wonder song: (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

FELDMAN: Emotional testimony by Layla Peterson (ph) -- that's the daughter of Sara Jane Olson and her husband, Dr. Fred Peterson, at this sentencing. And there you see Sara Jane Olson, who in another life was known as Kathleen Soliah, an alleged former member of Symbionese Liberation Army, the group that took responsibility for the kidnapping of newspaper heiress Patty Hearst. The proceeding that we are watching now is the sentencing.

SARA JANE OLSON: I want to say that because I knew a person at one time named Angela (UNINTELLIGIBLE) who was, as I knew her, a lovely girl and a good friend to me. When friends of hers came asking for help, I helped them. I thought I was doing a good deed and saving lives.

I still maintain that I did not participate in these events in Los Angeles, but in helping people, if I did anything that brought harm to other people, I am truly sorry, because I did not mean to. I apologize to anyone I might have done that to -- extremely sincere.

I want to thank the people who stood by me. But I do my job in pain too because of what they had to undergo because of my case.

I hope that you forgive me for any pain I've brought you and (UNINTELLIGIBLE). But I want to thank you for treating me with kindness, to all the people that we have met, (UNINTELLIGIBLE). It's goodbye to the law firm of (UNINTELLIGIBLE), for allowing the (UNINTELLIGIBLE). And to my mother and father and brother and his partner, Laurie (ph), and my sister Martha (ph) and my brother Lance and my sister Josephine, for standing by me throughout this. I really appreciate what a wonderful family they are. And one thing good that has come out of this, that I'm able to be reunited with them.

I am a person in court today who truly, while grateful for all that I had, (UNINTELLIGIBLE) as you can, for any mistakes I have made, I accept responsibility for any pain I caused. I accept responsibility, and I am truly sorry. Thank you.



MICHAEL LATIN, PROSECUTOR: Your honor, we have only two people that would like to speak, and they will be brief. Each of them were intended victims, people whose lives were intended to be taken by the defendent's actions back on that day in August of 1975. One is a police officer, still a police officer, by the name of Martin Finemart (ph); he has just come back from a tour of Vietnam, had survived, come back, and almost had life taken by one of the two bombs that the defendant has admitted she helped plant. This one was at the Pollenbeck station (ph).

The other bomb was an active bomb. It was live, and I'd like to show the wanted to call back that station. The other bomb was an active bomb. It was live. I would like to show the court a picture before the intended victim of that bomb speaks, so the court understands the difference between life and death for this particular officer.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So I would object to the picture. I have no objection, of course, to the witnesses speaking.


LATIN: This is one of the photographs. It was given over in discovery originally. This photograph shows the position of the clothes-pin trigger device as it came to rest when officer John Hall and officer James Bryan pulled out of their parking spot at the International House of Pancakes. As I explained before, the two screws were designed so that when they shut and made contact, that bomb would go off. Because the officers pulled out at an angle, the clothes pin got slightly twisted out of joint; this is the position of the clothes pin and the two metal contacts when it was discovered by Los Angeles Police Department bomb experts and they were called out to disarm the bomb.

The space between the two screws that were supposed to make contact was approximately 1/32 inch or less. It is almost not even visible. You have to look at the photograph at very close range even to see that there's a gap between the two clothes pin ignition points.

This picture is the difference between Officer Hall being able to be here and talk to the court and the defendant facing another murder charge in this case and Officer Hall having the good fortune to be here to talk to the court today -- so at this time I would like to call Officer John Hall.

Good morning, your honor.

JOHN HALL, LAPD: My name is John Hall, and I'm one of the policemen who was (UNINTELLIGIBLE) August 1975, while my partner and I were in a restaurant eating dinner. I recall how full the restaurant had been that night with men, women, and children, waiting in line to be seated to enjoy their dinners. I specifically remember walking to our black-and-white as I waved to a little girl no older than 7 or 8 years old. She was sitting in a booth with her parents and baby brother, no more than four or five feet in front of our vehicle. The little girls was seated in the front of a large window, smiling and waving energetically back at us.

Your honor, it horrifies me to think that lives of dozens of innocent people, like that child in the window, would have ended in an instant had the defendant and her co-conspirators successfully carried out their terrorist acts. As for myself, I certainly would have died that evening, leaving behind my wife and 3-month-old daughter. My other two children never would have ever been born, nor one of my grandsons.

One of my children that would not be here today is now 20 years old and currently serving our country as a United States Marine. He and his fellow Marines are now defending our country against today's terrorists, as I stand in front of you, a victim of a terrorist act that occurred 26 1/2 years ago.

My son is asking questions that I cannot answer for him, but I beseech you to answer for him today, questions in regards to terrorism and justice such as these. When a person aides and conspires with terrorists, is that person as guilty as a terrorist that commits the act? Does the passing of time cause a terrorist sentencing to lessen? Does the life of a terrorist victim and the life of his family mean less to the courts than the defendant sitting before you?

Your honor, you have the power to provide answers to these and many more questions today when you deliver Ms. Olson's sentence. For myself and my family, the only fair sentence in our eyes is for Ms. Olson to serve 26 1/2 years with no possibility of parole.

I hope that justice will be severed today. I hope that the questions of my young Marine will be answered, inspiring him and his fellow Marines, to defend our country with the absolute knowledge and confidence that any form of terrorism will never be tolerated in our nation.

Thank you, your honor.


O'BRIEN: Officer John Hall, who 26 1/2 years ago stepped into a cruiser that had a pipe bomb placed underneath it. The allegation is, and now the guilt has been admitted, that Sara Jane Olsen was involved in placing that pipe bomb. He lives to tell the story simply because of the fact that the contact was not made on that pipe bomb by only 1/32 inch.

That is the first of the prosecution witnesses testifying at this sentencing hearing of Sara Jane Olson, formerly of the Smybionese Liberation Army.




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