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Update on the SJ Olsen Trial

by From the LA Times Thursday, Oct. 25, 2001 at 5:05 PM

copied from oct.24 LA Times





Olson Lawyers: Missing Diary Is Key

Trial: The defense says it provides an alibi for the suspected SLA member in 1975 bombing plot.

By STEVE BERRY, TIMES STAFF WRITER

Los Angeles prosecutors have given lawyers for suspected SLA member Sara Jane Olson

thousands of documents connected to the 1975 bomb plot charges she faces.

But there's one key document that defense lawyers say is suspiciously missing, one they

maintain could help provide an alibi.

It is a diary of 1970s radical and ex-SLA associate Wendy Yoshimura, last used by

Oakland prosecutors in Yoshimura's 1976 trial. In that journal, Yoshimura--confused, on

the run and pining for an imprisoned former comrade--records intriguing details about the

brief and violent history of the Symbionese Liberation Army.

More important to Olson are passages that defense lawyers say place her in Northern

California on Aug. 22, 1975, the day that prosecutors say she was in Los Angeles trying

to kill police officers with nail-packed pipe bombs.

Olson's lawyers contend the diary is so important that the charges against their client

should be dismissed because of its unavailability. At a hearing scheduled for this morning,

they will ask Superior Court Judge Larry Fidler to either dismiss the charges against her or

to order prosecutors to find the diary and turn it over immediately.

"There is little question that Wendy Yoshimura's diary is exculpatory evidence," defense

counsel Shawn Snider Chapman said in court papers.

Even if the diary turns up, Chapman says Fidler should dismiss the charges because prosecutors have waited so long to provide it.

Jury selection in Olson's conspiracy trial is due to begin next week, more than two years after the longtime fugitive wasarrested.

Chapman's motion, one of about 10 that Fidler is scheduled to hear beginning today, says police officers seized the diary onSept. 18, 1975, when they raided two SLA safe houses in San Francisco. In those sweeps, FBI agents arrested Yoshimuraand three other SLA fugitives, including Patty Hearst, the kidnap victim-turned-urban guerrilla.

Not all would agree with the defense contention about Olson's whereabouts.

Hearst, in her book "Every Secret Thing," says that Olson, along with former boyfriend Jim Kilgore and SLA leader Bill Harris, were in Los Angeles planting bombs under the two police cars on that August night.

After the SLA arrests, Olson, then in her late 20s and using her given name Kathleen Soliah, went into hiding for 24 years, settling in St. Paul, Minn., where she married a physician. Police arrested her in 1999.

Yoshimura went on trial in Alameda County in 1976 and was convicted of non-SLA-related charges of possessing explosives and a machine gun. She served a year in prison. Now 58, Yoshimura lives in Berkeley, where she shows and sells her artwork and is part owner of the Juice Collective on Berkeley's Vine Street. She could not be reached for comment.

Portions of her diary, which covered the last four weeks of the SLA's turbulent existence, were introduced during her trial. But those portions were not related to the Los Angeles bomb attempts. At this point, nobody seems to know where the diary is.

FBI Had Record of Diary Excerpts

The FBI, at the time of Yoshimura's trial, wrote down detailed excerpts from Yoshimura's diary in some investigative reports, according to Chapman. She said those reports were key sources for investigative reporters Paul Avery of the SanFrancisco Examiner and Vin McLellan of Boston during their research for their 1977 history of the SLA, "The Voices of Guns."

An Olson defense investigator says that shortly before Avery died last year, he said those diary excerpts mentioned thatOlson, Kilgore and Olson's sister, Josephine Soliah, were in Mendocino County during the week of Aug. 22, 1975. McLellan could not be reached for comment.

The reporters mentioned Olson's whereabouts in several paragraphs of their book that had nothing to do with the Los Angeles bombing attempt. The Mendocino County trip was part of a section on the shifting alliances among the SLA members.

It described the "flip-flop pattern of sexual triangles and rectangles," and how Yoshimura was yearning for Kilgore and wondering whether he and Olson would resume their relationship while they were away in Northern California.

Here's how the authors reported the trip: "A couple of days after the Emeryville bombing [which was on Aug. 13, 1975], Kilgore, Kathy and [Olson's sister] Josephine Soliah. . . . took off into Northern California on a scouting trip, apparently seeking a mountain stronghold in Mendocino County. They were gone for a little more than a week, bringing back [to San Francisco] maps of the Mendocino outback, lists of old abandoned mines--trail notes for future Ches [revolutionaries] of California. And while Wendy waited for her man to return, Jim and Kathy, up in the hills, were apparently rediscovering each other."

Authorities later found Mendocino maps at one of the SLA's San Francisco apartments. Josephine Soliah mentioned the Mendocino trip in a letter that her parents received from her on Aug. 23, the day after the Los Angeles bomb attempt.

The FBI excerpts are also nowhere to be found. An Olson defense investigator said Avery told him he got the material from the Alameda County district attorney's files.

They are not there now, said Deputy Dist. Atty. Bill Baldwin, records custodian. Neither is the diary, he said. "Our prosecutors' file doesn't exist, and I don't know why," Baldwin said. He said Los Angeles prosecutors went through the Alameda files more than a year ago, but Deputy Dist. Attys. Eleanor Hunter and Michael Latin declined to say what they found. The diary and FBI excerpts are not in court files, either. In 1986, a judge ordered Yoshimura trial exhibits destroyed. However, an appellate court order in the file referred to the diary in a paragraph dealing with a legal dispute over its usage in Yoshimura's trial.

Olson's lawyers also plowed through the files of Yoshimura's defense lawyer at the time in search of the diary or excerpts from it. They found nothing.

Stuart Hanlon, another Olson lawyer, says the defense will call Yoshimura to testify. Although they have not interviewed her, Hanlon says, "We know what she will say."

Prosecution to Use Hearst's Account

Even if the diary turns up, it will not necessarily be a get-out-of-jail card for Olson. The paragraph in Avery's book that refers to the Mendocino trip is not attributed specifically to the diary. It is connected by a sworn declaration from the defense investigator who interviewed Avery about the diary. The prosecution has other ammunition as well: Patty Hearst, for one.

In her book, Hearst offers a comical account of the bombing attempt in Los Angeles. She says Olson, Kilgore and Harris wanted to coordinate the bombing with a planned bombing in Marin County. She said they drove around Los Angeles looking for a place to plant the bombs and got into a violent argument about what to do with them.

At one point, while stopped at a traffic light, according to Harris, an angry Kilgore hit Olson, giving her a black eye. He and Harris then exchanged blows when Harris rose to Olson's defense, Hearst said.
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