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Olson Ungagged
By Amy Radil
July 10, 2000
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Sara Jane Olson celebrated the judge's removal of her gag order Sunday, appearing at a benefit concert for her legal defense fund in Minneapolis. She blasted the conspiracy charge against her as an attempt by prosecutors to "rig" her trial. She also said that the 25-year-old allegations amount to merely settling an old score. Attendance was light for the benefit, which organizers blamed, in part, on the city for forcing them to change locations on short notice.
Sara Jane Olson speaks to concert-goers at a benefit for her on July 9, 2000. She is charged with conspiring to murder Los Angles police officers by planting pipe bombs under police cars in 1975 as a member of the Symbionese Liberation Army.
(MPR Photo/Amy Radil)

THE BENEFIT CONCERT for Sara Jane Olson's legal defense fund was originally to be held at a Minneapolis warehouse, but after a city official said the warehouse lacked the appropriate permit, concert organizers shifted the event to the Lake Harriet Community Church in South Minneapolis. The concert was intended to help defray Olson's legal costs.

Olson, formerly known as Kathleen Ann Soliah, is charged with conspiring to murder Los Angles police officers by planting pipe bombs under police cars in 1975 as a member of the Symbionese Liberation Army. The bombs, however, did not explode. Los Angeles Superior Court Judge James Ideman recently lifted a gag order against those involved in the case, after deciding it was unenforceable.

Olson made a theatrical appearance onstage in the church basement before the concert.

"Hi. I'm Sara Olson and I am ungagged," she said. "But I'm still very nervous. I'm charged with several criminal felony counts but the most important really is the conspiracy charge and what I say today can be used against me in court in January."

Olson called the conspiracy charge a piece of "magic" prosecutors have drummed up to make sure their case won't fail. She did not address any of the specific charges filed against her, or proclaim her innocence, but described the justice system as something used by authorities to achieve their own ends. She conceded that such a high-profile case makes her unique among criminal defendants, many of whom receive little notice as they head for trial.

"A lot of those people, most of them, are far worse off than I, lacking support, lacking publicity, or anything but the most rudimentary representation and almost guaranteed as a result, conviction and sentencing and the loss of at least part of their lives in one of the fine unregenerate hellholes that are todays prisons in the American gulag," Olson stated.

The benefit combined Olson's impassioned speech with an irreverent spirit. Exemplified by a piano rendition of the song If I Only Had a Brain, which was dedicated to L.A. District Attorney Gil Garcetti.

Olson's defense fund coordinator, Mary Sutton, also took the stage to make some more pointed remarks, targeting the prosecution's chief witness Patty Hearst-Shaw.

"Sara is not guilty," Sutton said. "Sara was never a member of the SLA. Patty Hearst, the lead witness, was a member of the SLA and is a convicted felon on many charges. She is the lead witness, so we can hardly consider her testimony credible."

Shaw and Olson have carried on a personal slugfest in recent interviews. Shaw told a magazine Olson was merely an aspiring member of the SLA and Olson called Shaw's account "self-serving." Their differing views on the roles they played in 1975 will likely emerge when the trial gets underway early next year.

Olson's supporters say because the trial will take into account the entire history of the SLA, it could last six to eight months. So far Olson's defense fund has raised about $50,000, partly through sales of her new cookbook entitled, Serving Time: America's Most Wanted Recipes. Defense fund member Mary Ellen Kaluza says the book is for sale in Twin Cities bookstores as well as in California, Olson's other base of support.

She has also held fundraisers in San Francisco; and a Berkeley City Council committee recently passed a resolution supporting her. Kaluza says in California, liberal activists have rallied around Olson politically, while in Minneapolis support has come more through personal connections.

"It's different there (California) than it is here (Minnesota), because here a lot of people respond to Sara on a personal level, because this is where she's lived for so long so people know her personally and they've seen her in all her various community and theater work," Kaluza says.

Olson, was arrested last year and eventually freed on bail. Her trial is scheduled to begin January 8, 2001.