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Last SLA fugitive gets 6-year sentence

James Kilgore, the last fugitive member of the Symbionese Liberation Army to be brought to justice after 27 years on the run, was sentenced Monday to six years in prison for a killing during a 1975 holdup.
/ Source: The Associated Press

The last fugitive member of the Symbionese Liberation Army to be brought to justice was sentenced Monday to six years in prison for the shotgun slaying of a bank customer during a 1975 holdup.

James Kilgore, 56, who evaded authorities for more than two decades before his November 2002 arrest in South Africa, was the last of five SLA members sentenced for murdering Myrna Opsahl, 42. The housewife and mother of four was killed as she deposited a church collection at Crocker National Bank.

“I can say if there is one day in my life I could live again, it would be that moment,” Kilgore said as he apologized to the Opsahl family at Sacramento Superior Court.

“I accept full responsibility for my actions on that day,” said Kilgore, a one-time economics major who became an SLA bomb maker and eventually a professor at the University of Cape Town.

Opsahl’s husband, Trygve, reacted to Kilgore’s apology, saying, “At least he acknowledged what they did. It certainly helps some, but all this will be with us.”

Kilgore’s sentencing brought an end to the violent saga of the Bay Area-based SLA. The band of 1970s revolutionaries achieved notoriety amid the anti-Vietnam War movement for murdering Oakland school superintendent Marcus Foster, kidnapping newspaper heiress Patty Hearst, setting off bombs and robbing a string of California banks.

After kidnapping Hearst, the group forced her wealthy parents to donate millions of dollars in food to the needy. Hearst eventually adopted the nickname “Tania” and helped the group rob banks. She received a 2001 pardon from President Clinton on earlier bank robbery charges.

Long family struggle
Monday’s sentencing ended a long crusade by Opsahl’s surviving family members to obtain prosecutions in the 29-year-old murder.

Sacramento County prosecutors declined for years to press charges, fearing evidence wouldn’t hold up in court. But sheriff’s deputies in January 2002 arrested four former SLA members, and prosecutors reached guilty pleas in November 2002.

Serving six- to eight-year terms in California prisons are Emily Montague, 57, of Altadena; her former husband, William Harris, 58, of Oakland; Michael Bortin, 55, of Portland, Ore.; and Sara Jane Olson, 57, of St. Paul, Minn.

Kilgore pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in May 2003. As part of a plea bargain, Kilgore will pay an undetermined amount of restitution to the Opsahls. He is also barred from profiting from selling his story, and any money he makes from books, magazines, television or films will go to a nursing scholarship in Opsahl’s name.

A married father of two, Kilgore spent more than two decades in Zimbabwe and South Africa after disappearing from San Francisco on Sept. 18, 1975, the day FBI agents arrested Hearst and four other SLA members.