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'American Idol' contestant's link to LAPD attacks brings no protest from police union

February 24, 2011 |  9:39 am

California's decision two years ago to allow former radical Sarah Jane Olson to serve parole in Minnesota instead of California drew strong criticism from the union representing Los Angeles police.

The union said the former Symbionese Liberation Army member, who was then known as Kathleen Soliah, deserved no special treatment stemming from her 1975 conviction for the attempted assassination of two Los Angeles police officers.

Now Olson is the focus of renewed attention as her daughter, Sophia Shorai, has been winning rave reviews on "American Idol."

Olson also was one of five SLA members, including Emily Montague-Harris, William Taylor Harris, Michael Alexander Bortin and James William Kilgore, who pleaded guilty in Sacramento County to second-degree murder in the death of Myrna Opsahl during the 1975 robbery of Crocker National Bank in suburban Carmichael.

So what will the Los Angeles Police Protective League do if Olson returns to Los Angeles to root on her daughter in the popular talent contest?

"While we still believe that letting domestic terrorist Kathleen Soliah set the terms of her parole was an insult to the memory of Myrna Opsahl and all the men and women of LAPD past and present, we have no plans to protest or disrupt Sophia Shorai performances on 'American Idol,'" union President Paul M. Weber said in a statement to The Times.

"We harbor no ill-will against Sophia Shorai, who was born in Zimbawbe while her mother was on the run for decades from law enforcement for her role in the murder of Myrna Opsahl during a bank robbery, and the attempted murder of two LAPD officers," Weber said.

On Saturday, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune profiled Shorai, noting that the 28-year-old, who uses her middle name professionally, landed jobs singing in commercials and was a regular in Twin Cities music venues before her current run on "Idol."

Shorai expresses "awe of my parents and their ability to not only love each other dearly after 40 years [but to] promote each other's good qualities" in her video biography posted on the "Idol" website.

Not mentioned is her mother's controversial and well-documented past.

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. Soliah 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, where Shorai was born, before settling in St. Paul,  Minn.

Until she was re-arrested, Olson lived the quiet life of a homemaker and mother of three daughters in a Tudor-style home near the Mississippi River and performed in  local Shakespeare productions.

She was arrested in 1999 after police received tips about her identity from old acquaintances and viewers of the TV show "America's Most Wanted," which publicized a $20,000 FBI reward for her arrest.

Olson began serving a seven-year prison sentence in 2002. Her time behind bars was uneventful until March 2008, when she was released a year early because of a clerical error. She was promptly rearrested as she prepared to fly home to Minnesota to serve supervised parole and spent another year behind bars until her 2009 release from custody.

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-- Andrew Blankstein

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