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SLA members were on jihad, Hearst says

SHARE SLA members were on jihad, Hearst says

LOS ANGELES — Patricia Hearst said that Sara Jane Olson and members of the Symbionese Liberation Army charged with murder in a 1975 bank robbery were dedicated revolutionaries who had their "own little jihad" going.

The newspaper heiress who was kidnapped by the 1970s radical group and later joined them told CNN's Larry King on Tuesday that she believed Olson, Bill and Emily Harris, Michael Bortin and James Kilgore "wanted to bring down the country," and she vowed to testify against them.

"They wanted to overthrow the government of the United States. They called themselves an army. They planned on forming cells and going on until they started a full-scale war in this country," Hearst said.

At one point during the hour-long interview, she compared the SLA to the bombers of the Oklahoma City Federal Building and the violent 1960s Charles Manson cult. She also used the word "jihad," or holy war.

"Charles Manson wanted to start a war too," she said, recalling how the mass murderer had his followers scrawl words in blood at one of their crime scenes hoping to trigger a race war.

Emily Harris' attorney, Stuart Hanlon, denounced Hearst's remarks, saying she was trying to ensure his client and the others would not get a fair trial.

"It seems that all she does is minimize her own actions and her own responsibility," he said. "When you've lied for this long, the reality has gotten lost."

Olson made a court appearance in Sacramento on Tuesday on a first-degree murder charge, four days after she was sentenced to 20 years to life in prison for attempting to blow up Los Angeles police cars.

"She is innocent; she is confident she will prevail," said Shawn Snider Chapman, Olson's attorney. "She was not there."

Olson and the four other SLA members were charged last week with killing Myrna Opsahl, a 42-year-old mother of four, during the April 21, 1975, bank robbery in the Sacramento suburb of Carmichael.

Prosecutors have said much of their case will be based on testimony from Hearst, who was kidnapped by the SLA and later joined them in several bank robberies. She said she drove one of the getaway cars during the Carmichael robbery, but she was granted immunity from prosecution as a condition of her 1991 grand jury testimony.

She appeared forceful and composed during Tuesday's interview, a sharp contrast to the tearful, breathless witness who testified on her own behalf at her SLA bank robbery trial in the 1970s. She was convicted of armed bank robbery then, and a judge sentenced her to seven years in prison. She served about two years before President Jimmy Carter commuted her sentence. Last year, President Bill Clinton pardoned her.

Hearst has two daughters, 20 and 17, and has pursued an acting career. She said her actions in the 1970s seem very far away now.

"I've lived my entire adult life haunted by what happened," she said. "But I had to get on with my life."

Loyola University law professor Laurie Levinson said she was surprised prosecutors allowed Hearst to do the interview because it risked tainting a potential jury pool and gave defense attorneys a preview of what Hearst will say in court.

Levinson also questioned how effective Hearst would be to the prosecution.

"She's on a mission, but that's going to be a real vulnerability on the stand," she said. "Jurors don't necessarily want a witness on a mission. They want a witness who tells the truth."