MARCH 25, 2008
The California Department of Corrections is blaming a clerical error for the early prison release of a terrorist convicted of murder and plotting to bomb police cars while serving in a radical group that pledged to declare revolutionary war against the fascist capitalist class.
The infamous California-based Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA) may be best remembered for kidnapping media heiress Patty Hearst, but the violent 1970’s urban guerilla group was also notorious for bombings, bank robberies, killing innocent bystanders and a bloody shootout with Los Angeles Police.
Many SLA members served prison time while one successfully eluded justice for decades. Although she murdered an innocent bank customer during a 1975 SLA raid in northern California and tried to bomb police cars the same year, Sara Jane Olson avoided prison by moving to Minnesota where she lived on obscurity as a housewife.
In 2001 she was finally brought to justice thanks to a tip from the popular television show America’s Most Wanted, which profiles suspects. Olson eventually pleaded guilty to the murder of bank customer Myrna Opsahl and the attempted police car bombings. She was sentenced to 14 years, but in California prisoners usually serve half their sentences before being paroled.
When Olson was released from prison last week after serving only six years, the murdered woman’s son, officials at the Sacramento County district attorney’s office and top aides to Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger questioned the move. Olson was subsequently picked up at Los Angeles International Airport and sent back to jail.
In an embarrassing admission, the state’s Department of Corrections acknowledged its error and said that Olson is required to serve additional time. In an explanation posted on the department’s web site, a top agency official said: “We understand how sensitive the impact of such an error has on all involved in this case and sincerely regret the mistake.”
The department’s internal affairs division is conducting a thorough investigation to assure that violent criminals are not set free before serving their sentence. Incidentally, the Service Employees International Union, which represents most prison clerks, denied that a clerical error was to blame. They assure that the release date was properly set by records employees at the Central California Women’s Facility that houses Olson and that the decision to release her came from high up.
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