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Friends Rally Around Fugitive
By Michael Khoo
June 21, 1999
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The arrest last week of a St. Paul woman accused of being a former member of the Symbionese Liberation Army is generating intense public debate. Law enforcement authorities say Sara Jane Olson is actually fugitive Kathleen Soliah, who is wanted in California for conspiring to murder police officers in the mid '70s. Olson's friends and associates, however, are stunned, and some question the wisdom of pursuing the charges.

SARA JANE OLSON, HER HUSBAND, Fred Peterson, and their three daughters are regular and active members of the Minnehaha United Methodist Church in Minneapolis, where her fellow congregants know her as a tireless, passionate crusader against social injustice. Yesterday's services made repeated reference to her community and church contributions. Karen Wallin, head of the church council, says the congregation will continue to offer its unconditional love.

Wallin: Our church people are struggling to understand the impact of Sara's arrest. We don't have the answers. But we do have faith and trust in God's guidance, in God's grace, and God's all-encompassing love. That's our message to Sara, and to her family, and to all of you.
Olson was arrested last Wednesday, only blocks from her St. Paul home. Authorities say her fingerprints match those of Kathleen Soliah who is under indictment on charges of planting pipe bombs under Los Angeles police cars in 1975. The explosives were detected before they detonated. If convicted Olson could face life in prison. California law enforcement officers say they have pursued the case for over two decades because Soliah purposely targeted police vehicles.

The church music director, Brendan Coleman, says the image of a violent radical is irreconcilable with the woman he's known for 20 years.
Coleman: The two can't fit together for me. And I'm not going to try to put a square peg in a round hole. I know one person. I know Sara Olson. And I think 20 years of having someone as your best -one of your best friends - you know that person. I don't feel cheated. I don't feel lied to. I don't feel like I don't know this person. I know her. I know who she is. And I'm very proud to call her a friend. And that's not going to change.
Olson is also receiving the support of several St. Paul legislators, including DFL State Senator Sandy Pappas, who attended yesterday's worship services. Pappas caused controversy late last week when she suggested the charges facing Olson, who worked on Pappas's 1997 mayoral campaign, did not amount to "real crimes." Pappas says she misspoke, although she continues to question the priorities of police investigators. She says the FBI should be pursuing current crimes and criminals who continue to pose a threat to society.
Pappas: And by the life that Sara Jane has lived for the last 20 years, I think it's clear to the people in her community, her neighborhood, church, people who know her through politics, that she does not present a danger to society.
Some of Olson's closest associates say not only is she not a threat, but they are skeptical she actually is Kathleen Soliah. Spencer Blau says he's known Olson for roughly 20 years and has worked with her on countless social issues, including ending apartheid in South Africa. Blau says he's suspicious of the allegations. And even if true, he questions whether justice is best served by imprisonment.
Blau: If the purpose is to rehabilitate, it's unnecessary. Because clearly she's a contributing member of the community that should be held up as an example. And I hope whatever happens, people know what a good person she is and has always been as far as, you know, as far as I know. I have no reason to believe anything but the best of her.
In the meantime, Olson remains in custody at the Ramsey County Jail where she is being held without bail. She is scheduled for an extradition hearing July 15. Governor Ventura has said he will sign the extradition order once he receives it from California officials.