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Math error sends former ‘70s radical back to prison

 (The Spokesman-Review)
Soliah (The Spokesman-Review)

LOS ANGELES – Just days after her release on parole, a former 1970s radical was headed back to prison Saturday to serve at least one more year after corrections officials said a miscalculation resulted in her early release.

Criticism over the early release from prison Monday of Kathleen Soliah, who changed her name to Sara Jane Olson and lived as a fugitive for years in Minnesota, spurred a review of her sentence and the timing of her parole, said Scott Kernan, the chief deputy secretary for the California Department of Corrections, said at a news conference.

The review revealed that a 2004 miscalculation led to the former Symbionese Liberation Army member being released a year too early, he said.

“The department is sensitive to the impact such an error has had on all involved in this case and sincerely regrets the mistake,” Kernan said.

He said the review was ordered “after many concerns raised in the media.” The union that represents Los Angeles police officers and the son of a woman killed in a decades-old botched robbery at a bank near Sacramento opposed Soliah’s release.

Soliah, 61, was detained at Los Angeles International Airport on Friday night and told her right to leave the state had been rescinded. She was sent to stay with family in Palmdale, where authorities kept watch outside the house overnight, and was arrested Saturday and imprisoned in Corona, about 50 miles southeast of Los Angeles, Kernan said.

She will be returned to the same prison in central California that she walked out of Monday and will not be eligible for release until March 17, 2009, he said.

Soliah’s attorney, Shawn Chapman Holley, called her client’s return to custody “ridiculous” and said prison officials caved in to outside influences.

“As far as we’re concerned they’re bowing to political pressure and they are wrong,” Holley said. “It’s like they make up all new rules when it comes to her. It’s like we are in some kind of fascist state.”

The Los Angeles Police Protective League, which represents more than 9,000 police officers, said it was relieved that Soliah had been returned to prison, but was “far from satisfied.”

“Parole shouldn’t even be an option for terrorists who are convicted of murdering innocent bystanders and attempting to murder police officers,” said Tim Sands, the group’s president. “Anyone who tries to kill police officers should get significant jail time and serve their full sentence.”

Soliah was charged in 1975 with attempting to bomb police cars with the SLA, a group best known for kidnapping newspaper heiress Patricia Hearst. But Soliah vanished soon after she was charged and reinvented herself as a housewife – changing her name to Sara Jane Olson, marrying a doctor and becoming a mother of three in St. Paul, Minn. She was arrested in 1999 after FBI agents acted on a tip from TV’s “America’s Most Wanted.”


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