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Soliah seeks to serve parole in Minnesota

March 5, 2009 |  7:59 am

Soliah Former Symbionese Liberation Army member Kathleen Soliah was released from state prison in March 2008, only to be re-arrested and told that because of a clerical error she would have to spend another year behind bars.

But Soliah, who served nearly seven years in a plot to kill Los Angeles police officers, is due to be paroled within two weeks, barring unforeseen changes.

The issue now is whether Soliah, now Sara Jane Olson, can be supervised on parole in Minnesota, where she lived before being arrested in connection with the 1975 plot to place pipe bombs under police cars in retaliation for a standoff with LAPD officers that left six SLA members dead.

Terry Thornton, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, said the 62-year-old made the request for supervised parole in Minnesota.

Both California and Minnesota corrections officials must approve the request, which is still under review. If approved, Soliah would be part of California's caseload and under the state's jurisdiction, but Minnesota would monitor, supervise and provide parole services for her.

"She will know whether her request is approved by the time she is released on parole," Thornton said, adding the department does not provide exact release dates of inmates for safety and security reasons.

If her bid is approved, Soliah would be one of more than 1,000 California offenders who are on parole supervision in other states. There are more than 1,400 parolees who served prison time in other states but are being supervised in California.

"Parole is about reintegrating prison offenders back into the community," Thornton said. "So if they are in place where they have family support or a job lined up, that increases their chances for success on parole."

Even so, it constitutes a small portion of the state's parolees. By law, the vast majority are returned to  their county of last legal residence in California, barring extenuating circumstances, such as if a victim lives in proximity to their address.

Officials for the Los Angeles Police union have urged state Atty. Gen. Jerry Brown to make Soliah fulfill all the terms of her sentence in California before she is allowed to go home.

"We do not believe that the state of Minnesota has a sufficient interest in ensuring that Ms. Soliah does not violate her conditions of parole," union President Paul M. Weber said. "The responsibility to ensure that Ms. Soliah follows each and every requirement of parole is one which should be undertaken by the state of California, not 'outsourced' to another state.  Ms. Soliah should be allowed to travel to another state when she fulfills her obligations to California, and not a minute before."

Last year, corrections officials cleared an out-of-state parole transfer for her to Minnesota. Soliah was released and met with her parole agent, who told her she was free to go to Minnesota and that her Minnesota parole agent was to contact her Los Angeles parole agent.

But as she was preparing to board the plane home, she was detained by prison officials and taken to her mother's home in Palmdale. It was there she was informed of the "computation error" in which it was discovered she had another year to go on her state prison sentence.

The product of a middle-class Palmdale family, Soliah joined a radical group best known for kidnapping newspaper heiress Patty Hearst in the mid-1970s. She fled after being charged with placing nail-packed explosive devices under police cars. The devices were discovered before detonation when the trigger on one malfunctioned and failed to explode.

Soliah changed her name to Sara Jane Olson, left California and married Peterson, an emergency-room physician. The couple lived for a while in Zimbabwe before settling in St. Paul,  Minn. Soliah lived the quiet life of a homemaker and mother of three daughters in a Tudor-style home in an upscale neighborhood near the Mississippi River and performed in a local theater's Shakespeare productions.

-- Andrew Blankstein

Photo: Kathleen Soliah, with her husband, Gerald Peterson, in 2008. Credit: Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times

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