Pawlenty joins effort to keep Olson out of Minnesotaby Laura Yuen, Minnesota Public Radio
Former radical Sara Jane Olson is set to be released Tuesday from a California prison. Olson served seven years for her role in a deadly bank holdup and for trying to bomb Los Angeles police cars in 1975. Now she wants to return to St. Paul, where she went into hiding for more than two decades and lived as a homemaker, mom and stage actress until her arrest several years ago.
But before her release, the state of California needs to give final approval that would allow her to serve her parole in Minnesota. As of yesterday afternoon, corrections officials in that state said they were still reviewing her case.
St. Paul, Minn. — If all goes as planned, Sara Jane Olson will receive orders to meet with a parole officer in California immediately after her release.
"It'll be something like, 'Report to Joe Smith at the parole office at 123 Street in Los Angeles County, and you have 24 hours to do that,'" said California attorney David Nickerson, who is representing Olson.
Nickerson said at the parole office, Olson will fill out paperwork and receive an identification card that will allow her to board a plane back to the Twin Cities.
Nickerson assumes his client will receive final clearance to serve her three-year parole in Minnesota. He said Olson wants to be reunited with her husband and three daughters as soon as possible.
Not everyone is excited about Olson's homecoming.
Governor Tim Pawlenty has sent a letter to California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to keep Olson in that state. A pair of Republican lawmakers have also weighed in, saying Olson should spend the rest of her sentence in the state in which she was convicted.
During her time as a fugitive, Olson was active in DFL party politics.
The St. Paul and Los Angeles police unions have tried to block her from serving her parole in Minnesota. They argue that a community that harbored a so-called "domestic terrorist" for two decades probably wouldn't bother to report her if she violated the conditions of her release.
Olson was born Kathleen Soliah. In her 20s, she became a member of the Symbionese Liberation Army, a group most famous for kidnapping Patty Hearst. A robbery in which she was involved resulted in the slaying of a bank customer.
Terry Thornton is a spokeswoman for the California corrections department. She said officials are sympathetic to concerns about Olson's return to Minnesota.
"But the whole purpose is to reintegrate offenders back into their community," Thornton said. "The parole plan for Olson to be with her family, with her husband, in her own home, is the best plan she has to be sure she is successful on parole."
Olson has met the criteria allowing her to reside in Minnesota. For example, her family is here, and local corrections officials have deemed her St. Paul home an appropriate place for her to live.
Once in Ramsey County, Olson would have to check in regularly with a parole officer and abide by a number of conditions set by Ramsey County and California corrections officials. She would also have to pay Ramsey County a one-time fee of $300 to help pay for her supervision.
MPR was unsuccessful in attempts to reach members of Olson's family.
One of Olson's most vocal supporters is attorney and former state legislator Andy Dawkins. He said, despite all her time in prison, he hopes Olson will still feel the desire to do good deeds for her community in the Twin Cities.
"I had a law client who was blind, he told me Sara used to call and read the New York Times to him because he was blind," Dawkins said. "She didn't know him for anyone else except he was a blind person. And that's what she did -- lots of things like that."
Olson appeared to be on the cusp of freedom not long ago. California corrections officials mistakenly released her from prison a year ago, only to re-arrest her days later. The early release, they said, was due to a math error.
- Morning Edition, 03/17/2009, 7:20 a.m.