4 SLA Members Get 6-8 Year Prison Terms
Feb. 15, 2003
SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) _ After making apologies to the family of a woman killed during a bungled bank robbery almost 28 years ago, four former radicals were ordered to spend much of the next decade in prison.
The sentencing of Emily Montague, now 55; her ex-husband, Michael Harris, 58; Michael Bortin, 54; and Sarah Jane Olson, 55, closed another chapter in the history of the Symbionese Liberation Army, the violent band of would-be revolutionaries most famous for the 1974 kidnapping of newspaper heiress Patricia Hearst.
The four were given sentences of six to eight years in prison Friday for the April 21, 1975, killing of Myrna Opsahl. The 42-year-old housewife was at the bank in suburban Carmichael to deposit her church's collection money when robbers burst in. Montague, who shot her, said the gun discharged accidentally.
``I will be sorry for the rest of my life,'' she said Friday.
Opsahl's son, Dr. Jon Opsahl, described the anguish the killing put his family through, saying he came to believe in ``monsters'' after losing his mother.
``A group of pathetic, deranged revolutionaries decided to make my mother instantly expendable,'' said Opsahl, sitting next to a poster-sized photograph of her.
Rather than risk potential life sentences if they were convicted at trial, the four agreed to plead guilty to second-degree murder. All have gone on to lead respectable lives in the years since the killing.
Opsahl, 42, said he had mixed feelings about the plea bargain but agreed to it because he believes the punishment handed down Friday was more devastating than if the four had been convicted in the 1970s.
``Back then, they were angry and foolish with nothing to lose,'' he said. ``Back then, some might have thought they were martyrs. ... Now they are more tolerant, a bit wiser and with so much more to lose. Maybe now the defendants will come to terms with what they did.''
The four seemed to acknowledge as much.
``Previously, I valued the idea of being a rebel and a radical,'' Montague said in a statement she made to a probation officer. ``But now I feel I am a productive citizen. I supported violence to bring about change but I can't believe in that now.''
Harris, whose wife and two sons were in court, told Opsahl he had often thought about the victim.
``Your mother was never an abstraction to me,'' he said. ``It's absolutely unacceptable that this happened.... I don't deserve your forgiveness.''
``Whatever we suffer is of no consequence,'' Bortin said. ``I can offer nothing but my apologies and I'm sorry.''
Olson, whose husband, mother and two grown daughters were in court, didn't speak, but had previously apologized in a letter included in her probation report.
``If we had foreseen her killing, we would never have robbed the bank,'' she wrote. ``We were young and foolish. We felt we were committing an idealized, ideological action to obtain government-insured money and that we were not stealing from ordinary people. ... In the end we stole someone's life.''
Superior Court Judge Thomas Cecil acknowledged the Board of Prison Terms could extend the sentences, but he discouraged such action, noting all four had led upstanding lives in the years since the killing.
``We need not guess whether these defendants will function in society. We have seen it,'' he said.
Hearst, who drove the getaway car in the robbery, had long ago reached an undisclosed financial settlement with the Opsahl family and was given immunity for her cooperation.
Charges are pending against a fifth person, James Kilgore. After decades underground, Kilgore, 55, was captured last year in South Africa, where he was living under another identity and working as a university professor.