The Olson debate resurfaces


You can check Sara Jane Olson off the "whatever happened to...?" list. The former St. Paul soccer mom who was, in reality, Symbionese Liberation Army bomber Kathleen Soliah, has just been released from prison for plotting to kill LAPD officers by blowing up their cars.

"She's out of prison too soon by far," John Opsal told the Sacramento Bee today. His mother was killed in an SLA holdup that Olson participated in. "It's another in a series of slaps in the face of victims by the justice system. ... That's a good four years before when I thought she would be released."

She served her time in a prison in California, but the case still reverberates through Minnesota... particularly Minnesota politics. Many DFL leaders came to her side after her 1999 arrest. One, DFLer Sandy Pappas, a former candidate for mayor of St. Paul, tested the political hot water when she said the charges didn't amount to "real crimes." She backtracked but by then, it was too late. The case became not only a debate over whether the sins of a criminal past should be forgiven, but the underpinning of a political debate (mostly on talk shows) over whether Democrats "go easy" on crime, and have their roots in a criminal brand of radicalism.

The case even ended up as part of the 2006 campaign for the 5th Congressional District after Republicans pulled this quote made after Olson's arrest by now Rep. Keith Ellison: "I think it's dangerous to prosecute people for their political views and their political associations. I think you prosecute people for what they do, for their acts," he said.

Olson eventually pleaded guilty to the charges, then walked out of the courthouse to declare that she had just pleaded guilty to something she didn't do.

Olson could've gotten life in prison. She was sentenced to 20 years to life, served six, and is now on probation. She's been ordered to stay in California although she's asking to be allowed to move, presumably back to Minnesota where her husband and children live.

"I'm so glad that they've got their mother back. My only hope is that she gets to come back to Minnesota because I miss her, too," said longtime friend Andy Dawkins, a former state representative from St. Paul.