SACRAMENTO, Calif. – Five former members of the Symbionese Liberation Army, including former fugitive Sara Jane Olson, were charged Wednesday with killing a woman during a bank robbery 27 years ago.
Three of the former members of the SLA, the 1970s radical group that kidnapped newspaper heiress Patty Hearst, were taken into custody at their homes, authorities said. Olson, 55, known as Kathleen Soliah at the time of the robbery, turned herself in Wednesday night in Los Angeles. The fifth suspect remained at large.
Olson, Emily Harris, ex-husband Bill Harris, Mike Bortin and James Kilgore were charged with first-degree murder in the slaying of a bank customer during a 1975 holdup in the suburb of Carmichael, authorities said.
Sacramento District Attorney Jan Scully said authorities had obtained more evidence in the case but declined to give details.
"Based upon the review of both old and new materials, I believe there is now both direct and circumstantial evidence sufficient to file charges and begin criminal proceedings for the murder of Myrna Opsahl," Scully said.
In a book Hearst wrote about the robbery, she claimed she was waiting in a getaway car during the holdup. She placed Olson and Bortin at the scene and said it was Emily Harris who shot Opsahl. But none of them was ever charged in the case.
The case has been the subject of numerous investigations, and Dr. Jon Opsahl, the son of the victim, had lobbied prosecutors for years to file charges.
"Our family has waited for 26 years for this day," he said Wednesday. "I'm very happy that my mother's murder is getting the attention it deserves and I trust that justice will be served."
Emily Harris was arrested at her home in Los Angeles, her ex-husband was taken into custody in Oakland, and Bortin was arrested in Portland, Ore. Kilgore has remained at large since the 1970s. Arraignments were scheduled for Friday.
The charges came two days before Olson's sentencing for her role in a failed 1975 attempt to blow up Los Angeles police cars. Olson has denied any role in the holdup.
One of her lawyers, Shawn Snider Chapman, said that during the two years she investigated the Olson case, "All I've learned and all I've read is that they consider this to be an unprosecutable case. All these people have been snatched from their homes for nothing."
Olson had been free on bail pending her sentencing Friday in the attempted bombing case. She and the three others were jailed after their arrests Wednesday.
Chapman dismissed the prosecutor's suggestion of new evidence in the case.
"I haven't seen anything new in the 27,000 pages of discovery," the lawyer said.
Unlike Olson, who was captured in Minnesota in 1999 after two decades on the run, the three SLA figures arrested Wednesday were not fugitives. Their whereabouts had been known to authorities for years.
The 1975 holdup of the Crocker National Bank led to the slaying of Opsahl, a 42-year-old mother of four who was shot while depositing a church collection. At the time, the robbers were widely believed to be members of the group that kidnapped Hearst as a 19-year-old from her Berkeley apartment.
After kidnapping Hearst in 1974, the SLA demanded that her parents, Randolph and Catherine Hearst, distribute millions in food to the needy. Ultimately, Hearst became a member of the SLA and took the name Tania.
Two months later, she was photographed carrying a carbine during an SLA bank holdup in San Francisco. Although she claimed she was the victim of brainwashing, she was convicted of bank robbery and sentenced to seven years in prison. She served about two years before President Carter commuted her sentence. In 2000, she was pardoned by President Clinton.
The Harrises spent eight years in prison for kidnapping Hearst. Emily Harris had been living in Southern California under an assumed name and was working as a computer consultant. Her former husband is remarried, the father of two, and was working as a private investigator.
Bortin, 53, spent 18 months in prison for possession of explosives. He is married to one of Olson's sisters and has a flooring business.
"I think people know he's a really good guy," Bortin's wife, Josephine, said Wednesday from her home in Portland. She declined to discuss the arrest.