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Friday, Nov. 16, 2001 at 4:33 AM
From the AP. Many twists and turns in this story; which, perhaps, should come as no surprise given the labyrinthian structure (and now increasingly Kafkaesque nature) of the US court system. However, Sara Jane Olson is going to make a stand and fight the charges against her -- even in this frightening political climate.
Olson Wants Guilty Plea Withdrawn
LOS ANGELES- Former Symbionese Liberation Army fugitive Sara Jane Olson has asked to withdraw a guilty plea and be tried on charges of attempting to blow up police cars in a conspiracy to murder officers in the 1970s.
The new twist in the long-running case came in a motion unsealed Wednesday that asked Superior Court Judge Larry Paul Fidler to withdraw her plea, which was entered Oct. 31, immediately repudiated outside court, then reaffirmed in court Nov. 6.
"After deeper reflection, I realize I cannot plead guilty when I am not," Olson, 54, said in a written declaration signed Monday and filed under seal Tuesday. "I understand, given the uncertainty of any jury verdict in any trial, that I may be found guilty."
She said her plea to two charges in the original five-count indictment was cowardice and she had "found the courage to take what I know is the honest course." She asked to go to trial on all charges, including three that were being dropped.
Olson is scheduled to be sentenced Dec. 7 under law as it existed in 1976. She would face 20 years to life in prison, with possibility of parole in 5 1/4 years. If tried and convicted on all counts she would face life with possibility of parole in seven years.
A hearing on the motion was scheduled for Nov. 28.
District attorney spokeswoman Sandi Gibbons said prosecutors believed there were insufficient grounds for withdrawing the plea.
"It's a good plea," Gibbons said. "She agreed to it three times - once in writing and twice in open court - after receiving extensive advice from a battery of lawyers and from Judge Fidler."
Los Angeles County records about 50,000 felony pleas a year "and it's not unusual to suffer a change of heart or, as some call it, 'buyer's remorse,'" Gibbons said.
The attempted bombings in 1975 followed a fiery shootout in 1974 that left six members of the radical SLA dead. Pipe bombs were placed under officers' cars outside a police station and a Hollywood restaurant. Neither detonated.
Olson, then-named Kathleen Soliah, was indicted in 1976 on charges of conspiracy to commit murder, two counts of possessing destructive devices and two counts of attempting to explode destructive devices with intent to murder.
Olson, who remained a fugitive until her 1999 arrest in Minnesota, pleaded guilty in October to the latter two counts. But immediately after leaving Fidler's court she told reporters outside that she was innocent.
On Nov. 6, Fidler called Olson and her attorneys back to court, lectured her about the meaning of entering a plea in court, and asked if she would reaffirm the plea.
Olson then said: "I want to make it clear, your honor, I did not make that bomb. I did not possess that bomb. I did not plant that bomb. But under the concept of aiding and abetting I do plead guilty."
The judge asked if she was doing so because she was "in fact guilty."
"Yes," she replied.
Olson's new motion argues the court has the power to prevent abuse of its process and that acceptance of a guilty plea when a defendant suggests she is innocent is counter to basic conceptions of justice.
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