Late Wednesday afternoon, Sara Jane Olson was arrested and will be charged in the slaying of Myrna Opsahl, the mother of four, gunned down during a 1975 Symbionese Liberation Army bank robbery in Carmichael, outside Sacramento. Former SLA members Emily Harris, her ex-husband Bill Harris, and Michael Bortin were arrested Wednesday morning.
According to Olson’s attorney, Shawn Chapman, Sacramento authorities were initially planning to delay Olson’s arrest until Friday, when she will be sentenced in a botched 1975 plot to blow up two police cars in Los Angeles. The bombs did not go off and no one was hurt.
Upon learning of the arrests in the Opsahl murder, Olson went to her attorney’s office, and later surrendered to Sacramento County sheriff’s deputies, who had Olson under surveillance in Los Angeles.
“I spoke to the Sacramento district attorney, and they said they would wait until Friday,” Chapman said about a half-hour after her client’s arrest. “Later, the sheriff told us that there was an outstanding warrant for Sara Jane, and that they were going to take her into custody today.” Chapman says she expects to defend Olson in the Carmichael case.
All four will be arraigned on first-degree murder charges in connection with the Crocker National Bank heist on April 21, 1975.
Patty Hearst, who has been granted immunity in the case, is expected to testify that Olson was one of four SLA robbers inside the bank.
News of the SLA arrests broke first on the Sacramento Bee Web site. Emily Harris was arrested at her home in Los Angeles, and her ex-husband Bill Harris was arrested in Oakland. A third suspect, Mike Bortin, was arrested at his home in Portland, Oregon.
The timing of the arrests seemed odd, though not totally unexpected. Authorities had planned to make the arrests after Olson’s sentencing Friday, but feared word might leak out. For months, prosecutors had sought to find out from Olson all that she knew about the Carmichael killing, but she wasn’t talking. The Sacramento District Attorney’s Office has been under intense pressure to bring suspects to trial.
Two previous Sacramento grand juries failed to indict anyone in the murder. Olson’s brother, Steve Soliah, was tried and acquitted in federal court on bank-robbery charges. After two decades, Los Angeles and Sacramento authorities claim to have unearthed new forensic evidence connecting Olson and the SLA members to the Carmichael slaying. Shell casings found at the crime scene are said to match a 9mm handgun found at the SLA’s safe house on Precita Street in San Francisco, where Olson allegedly lived.
Los Angeles County Deputy District Attorney Michael Latin has said fingerprints, a palm print and handwriting implicate Olson in the robbery. Olson denies any involvement in the holdup.