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Judge: Ex-SLA member must remain in prison

A judge has refused to free a former 1970s radical and longtime fugitive who was sent back to prison days after California corrections officials released her by mistake.
Image: Sara Jane Olson
Sara Jane Olson won't be eligible for release now until March 2009.Nick Ut / AP file
/ Source: The Associated Press

A judge has refused to free a former 1970s radical and longtime fugitive who was sent back to prison days after state corrections officials released her by mistake.

Attorneys for former Symbionese Liberation Army member Sara Jane Olson failed to show that corrections officials acted illegally, and that Olson herself should have realized she was being freed too soon, Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Thomas Cecil said in a ruling released Tuesday.

Olson's lawyers had argued that corrections officials had no authority to re-arrest her after she was mistakenly paroled March 17 after six years in prison.

Olson, 61, pleaded guilty to the attempted bombing of Los Angeles police cars and to the killing of a customer during a 1975 bank robbery in suburban Sacramento. She had lived as a fugitive in Minnesota for 25 years until her capture in 1999.

Parole officials said they neglected to include the two years she was supposed to serve for the Sacramento County murder on top of her 12-year sentence for the Los Angeles County crimes. Inmates typically serve about half their sentences.

In his ruling, which was signed on April 21, Cecil said Olson should have known that she had been released too early.

"She has not shown that she was ignorant of the facts," he wrote. "She was surely aware that she had been sentenced to a consecutive two-year term for her conviction in Sacramento County."

Olson's attorney, David Nickerson, said he just learned of the decision and must talk with Olson before deciding whether to file a similar motion with an appeals court.

Corrections Department spokesman Gordon Hinkle said the ruling "fully supports the actions we took in this case."

Paroled for four days
The judge ruled that Olson failed to prove that her release was anything other than an error. He also dismissed her objection that parole officials had failed to detail how they recalculated her proper release date, which is March 2009.

He also rejected Olson's claim that she was so severely harmed by her release and re-arrest that she should be freed again.

"She was paroled for four days before being re-incarcerated," Cecil wrote. "Although Petitioner had reunited with her husband, she had not had steady employment and successful reintegration into the community."

Olson was notified of the mistake March 21 at Los Angeles International Airport as she was about to board a flight home to Minnesota.

Objections from prosecutors and relatives of the woman slain during the Sacramento-area bank robbery prompted the corrections department to review her sentence.

The SLA was an urban guerrilla group started in 1973 when a handful of college-educated children from middle-class families with an ex-convict leader took up arms and nicknames and adopted revolutionary rhetoric.

The group took part in bombings and bank robberies, kidnapped heiress Patty Hearst and had a bloody shootout with Los Angeles police in 1974. Six members of the SLA died.