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Olson Sentenced to 10 Years, Will Serve 5

Aired January 18, 2002 - 13:44   ET


MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Let's step back and go back to the West Coast, superior courtroom, where Sara Jane Olson, who, some 25 years ago, was a member of the Symbionese Liberation Army, who you would probably recall for its links to Patty Hearst, the newspaper heiress, who was kidnapped by the SLA.

Sitting beside me, listening to this hearing since it began is Joe Whitley, former federal prosecutor, now in private practice with the Atlanta firm of Alston and Bird.

Joe, this is -- it's interesting to me, as a non-lawyer, to watch this. She plead guilty, she agreed to a five-and-a-quarter-year sentence; and yet we go through this process of listening to testimony on both sides of it. Why?

JOE WHITLEY, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Well I think part of this, Miles, is a public relations effort on her part, to some extent. I think she wants to get the word out on her change in life. There is this other case that's going to be coming up potentially in Sacramento where she is going to be on trial for murder. So those issues are all at play here.

Additionally, she might also flip, as we say in the criminal prosecution world -- she may decide she wants to provide testimony against Emily Harris, who is the alleged shooter in that Sacramento case where a woman was tragically killed.

O'BRIEN: Well, how would the testimony compel her one way or another to flip, as you say?

WHITLEY: Today's testimony, you mean?


WHITLEY: I think what she's doing is positioning herself as a person. She said several times during her comments that she has accepted responsibility. She apologizes to people. Those are code words for positioning her for later. In other words, so the court will understand that she has, in fact, changed in the last 27 years since this horrible incident occurred.

O'BRIEN: So some signals being sent there to prosecutors who might get involved in this other case which we're about to see. How unusual is it to have a sentencing hearing and then an arraignment following in the same courtroom? That's kind of a very unprecedented...

WHITLEY: Totally unprecedented. This is a time in a bottle type case. This has been around forever. And it's going to be very interesting to see how the judges react along the way. This particular judge has given her a relatively modest sentence; but perhaps an appropriate sentence at the time he agreed to this sentence, whereas other judges along the way -- the next judge in the murder case may give her a relatively severe sentence.

O'BRIEN: Well I -- the picture changes dramatically in that case.

Let's turn it now back to CNN's Charles Feldman, who's been watching this from our Los Angeles bureau.

Charles, you've had a chance to listen to this judge. I'm sure you have some familiarity with this judge. The 5 1/4-year sentence, on the face of it, seems light. Give us a little back-story on that.

CHARLES FELDMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, I mean, you know, you have to remember that what -- this was a very twisted kind of case, and it went through a lot of different turns along the way; and eventually she ended up pleading guilty, and then she took it back, and then she plead guilty again.

And with the time off for good behavior and some time served, her lawyer says that comes down to about 5 1/4 years, and maybe even less than that. But, of course, that has nothing to do with the murder case that's going to be ongoing in Sacramento, which she'll be arraigned for right after this proceeding.

And -- Miles.

O'BRIEN: Charles, let's listen in for just a moment to the hearing, and then we'll dive in a little bit more.

And you're looking there at Sara Jane Olson to the right, her attorney Shawn Chapman speaking.


SHAWN CHAPMAN, ATTORNEY FOR SARA JANE OLSON: ... that it's obviously going to be recalculated pursuant to 1170.2, that the court should simply sentence Ms. Olson to the term described by law.

LARRY FIDLER, SUPERIOR COURT JUDGE: What's the people's position here?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have no position on that. That is the term prescribed by law.

FIDLER: I'll say it both ways; all right.

In this matter there would be no legal cause why sentence should not now be imposed. This matter is pursuant to a case settlement.

As to count four, probation is denied. The defendant is sentenced to state prison for the term prescribed by law, which is for a minimum of 10 years to life. She is to pay the minimum mandatory restitution fine, although, I say the mandatory minimum, 75, was probably not 200 -- that's the one I'm going to impose. The mandatory minimum of $200.

There is a secondary fine pursuant to penal code section 1202.45 of $200. That's imposed and stayed. The stay will become permanent unless -- when she is paroled, if she is paroled. If she were to violate the conditions of her parole, she would then owe that $200 fine.

The sentence as to count five, probation is denied. The defendant is sentenced to the term prescribed by law: A minimum of 10 years to life. That is to run consecutive pursuant to the case settlement to count four. The same fines are imposed as to that count.

As to each count, she is to receive credit for the time she has actually served in this matter, 35 actual days, plus 16 days good time, for a total of 51 days credit.

People's motion as to the remaining counts pursuant to the case settlement.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, motion to dismiss.

FIDLER: Granted in the interest of justice pursuant to the case settlement.

Ms. Chapman, did you wish to be heard?

CHAPMAN: I just simply wanted to indicate that, pursuant to the provisions of 1170.2a, that that sentence that the court has just given will be...

FIDLER: The Board of Prisons terms at a later time, because the law has changed. And they must, pursuant to law, recalculate the sentence. They will take a look at the sentence and they will recalculate it pursuant to their guidelines.

The question that has always existed, and which Ms. Olson has acknowledged, she could have it fixed, I believe, from the comments that counsel have made to me, as little as five years, then less any good time, work time, that she was to receive, up to the possibility of life in prison if the board determined that she should have a hearing and if at that hearing -- after that hearing, they determine that she was not suitable for parole, then she would be given a life sentence, as I understand it.

CHAPMAN: I simply just wanted to state for the record that, pursuant to 1170.2a, recalculation is 5 1/4 years.

FIDLER: OK, and that -- well, there's a total dispute as to that. That's the defense position. The people's position is not at all with what you have stated; and it is not for the court to decide, it is for the Board of Prison terms. And I need not worry about it post-this.

So as far as this case is concerned, that concludes this matter.


CHAPMAN: Actually, I have one other request.

FIDLER: Go ahead.

CHAPMAN: Because a number of people are here from out of town, I was wondering if the court has the jurisdiction and the power to hold Ms. Olson here in Los Angeles for -- until Sunday so that they can visit her at the county jail.

FIDLER: Well, what I'm going to do -- and it has something to do with that, and we'll talk in a second -- there is a provision of law pursuant to, I believe, 976 (ph) of the penal code that when a defendant is arrested on a complaint or an indictment from another county, such as exists in this case from Sacramento, the court in the county where the defendant is arrested, Los Angeles in this case, with the agreement of the two presiding judges -- in this case, Judge Garcia (ph) and Judge Basku (ph) -- if they agree, this court can arraign Ms. Olson on the charges from Sacramento -- and I do have a copy the complaint -- set bail if appropriate, and then refer the matter back to Sacramento.

I understand that all parties have been notified of this, and that is what all sides wish to do.

Now I understand, Ms. Chapman, I am not appointing you for the Sacramento case. I will appoint you as a special appearance for this proceeding only so that we can proceed with the arraignment and save Sacramento some time and expense in flying her back today. I believe her co-defendants are being arraigned today, in my understanding.

We'll go ahead and arraign her. And then I have a department that Judge Garcia has provided me with, where I will set the case in Sacramento and we will talk about the date. He has indicated to me any date Monday through Friday is agreeable as far as Ms. Olson is concerned.

CHAPMAN: We were told to have Ms. Olson ordered back for January 22 at 1:30.

FIDLER: OK, January 22 at 1:30. Thank you for the information.

I understand, although, technically it's not required that the district attorney's office of Los Angeles County will stand in for the district attorney's office of Sacramento County. We won't send you there to try the case either, all right.

All right, let me find my copy of the complaint, which was faxed to me. CHAPMAN: For the record, (OFF-MIKE) wave formal reading of the statement of rights and plead not guilty and deny all special allegations..

O'BRIEN: All right, the legal gears have shifted here a little bit. And we probably should give you a little road map for this, for those of you who are not intimately familiar with this.

First of all, Joe Whitley has been sitting there with me -- former federal prosecutor now if private practice.

A little bit of legal jargon there. But essentially what the judge was saying is, the arraignment and the jurisdiction in this particular case -- the murder case involving the death of the 42-year- old mother of four who was depositing money for her church during a bank robbery in Carmichael, California back in 1975 -- the legal jurisdiction is Sacramento, but she's in Los Angeles anyway. She's at a sentencing hearing for the sake of expediency, we'll just do it here.

WHITLEY: Important process there. The Sacramento courts have apparently agreed for it to be done that way. So, for expediting this whole matter -- it's been, after all, 27 years; let's keep this thing moving. I think that's what you're hearing from this judge.

Apparently all parties have agreed it that, so there's no controversy.

O'BRIEN: All right, back to the Judge's Larry Fidler's courtroom.

FIDLER: ... this bail is now exonerated. And since I believe cash was posted -- or cash and property, I'm not sure how it was done -- that will be returned to the person or persons who posted the bail.

CHAPMAN: Thank you. That brings me back to the question that I asked, which: Is the court in a position to allow Ms. Olson to remain in Los Angeles' custody until Sunday...

FELDMAN: Here's what I'm going to do, because obviously the Sacramento authorities, it would be my guess, will come down, take possession of Ms. Olson and fly her there.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Your honor, may I interrupt?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I apologize for the interruption, but they are here now.

FELDMAN: Well, I guess unfortunately that's going to preclude me making that order. But what I will do -- I'll give you some time when the proceedings are over today, subject to the bailiffs. And I've talked to them about that, and their security needs and the sheriff's rules, that she can briefly meet with family and friends as necessary because they did come here from across the country. So I don't have a problem with that. But I will not preclude the appropriate Sacramento authorities from transferring Ms. Olson to their custody today.

CHAPMAN: Thank you.

FELDMAN: All right, thank you. We're in recess.


CHAPMAN: Thank you.

O'BRIEN: All right, that appears to be the end of this arraignment.

That sets the stage for some additional arraignments involving alleged co-conspirators of Sara Jane Olson: Michael Bortin, Bill and Emily Harris. They are yet to be arraigned today in other courtrooms.

One of them, Bortin in Portland, Oregon. Bill and Emily Harris, formerly married, now former spouses of each other, in a Sacramento courtroom. We're going to be watching those as well.

There you see the pictures of the other three involved in this murder, which occurred in the course of a bank robbery in 1975.

Charles Feldman, this -- it was kind of interesting, I don't know that we got it on the air, because we were talking. But they set bail at $1 million, but they just said she was going to jail for at least five years. The sentence, 10 years to life.

Why are they setting bail?

FELDMAN: Well, the bail, of course, relates to the murder charges, and that separate case. But she's now been sentenced to a prison term for the bombing conspiracy case that she has already pleaded guilty to.

So one way or the other, she was destined to be incarcerated. It was just a question of in which part of California. And it looks like she'll be going up to Sacramento. And the judge made it sound like it's possible that may even happen today. She wanted to spend the weekend in Los Angeles to meet with family and friends, but some people from the Sacramento district attorney's office and sheriff's department apparently are already here in Los Angeles.

The judge indicating that it's possible she may be transferred into their custody today, and then be brought to Sacramento. And if that happens, she will, in effect, be -- she will begin serving her prison sentence in a jail in Sacramento while she awaits trial there on the murder case.

And by the way, while you guys were talking, I don't know if you heard, her attorney did enter a plea of not guilty on her behalf on the charges of murder in that Sacramento -- or actually in that Carmichael, California bank robbery -- Miles. O'BRIEN: All right, thank you for not burying the lead for us there. That is an important point. Charles Feldman, thank you for helping out on this.

Joe Whitley, let's just turn to the big picture here. As you say, it's kind of a time capsule type of case. It takes us back to an era, really when -- a time, a very dark era for the U.S.; and interesting parallels to the dark era that we're currently facing.

But nevertheless, the SLA was running rampant, if you will, in the bay area. And yet, some 26 1/2 years later, now, at last, the justice system appears to be dealing this.

What's the message there?

WHITLEY: Well, I think right now the message is -- it's going to be interesting to see -- but terrorism of any kind can't be tolerated. I think that's what we hear from all law enforcement. And Oklahoma City is an example of domestic terrorism.

This is an example -- or what she is alleged to have done is domestic terrorism. And I think the country has changed dramatically. I think there was a time when people might have been sympathetic. But I think the country has changed a lot since this happened. It's going to be interesting to see if the judge sort of applies the mores of 1975 to this sentencing. Let's assume they are convicted in the Sacramento case -- what the sentence will be there.

O'BRIEN: It's an interesting point, because you could probably make the case that, in general, it's better to allow time to pass. In this case, given the tone and what is in that jury's mind post 9/11, it might be an entirely different story.

WHITLEY: Before 9/11, here family situation, her contribution to her community, everything that she has done -- the fact that she's lived every day of her life wondering when she was going to be arrested. She's now going to be punished a second time, her defense attorneys are going to say; why punish her twice for one crime?

O'BRIEN: Joe Whitley, former federal prosecutor with the Atlanta firm of Alston and Bird now. Thank you very much for navigating us through the legal shoals (ph), if you will. We always appreciate it.




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