Patty Hearst's former comrades plead guilty to 1975 murder

Four former members of the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA), the Californian guerrilla group that kidnapped Patty Hearst, pleaded guilty yesterday rather than face trial for the last outstanding crime of their days of political violence – the murder of a disabled housewife shot dead during a 1975 bank robbery outside Sacramento.

Under a deal worked out with prosecutors, who revived the case years after it had been abandoned because it was deemed to be unsolvable, the four defendants pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in exchange for assurances that they would serve no more than six to eight years in prison. They, as well as a fifth defendant who has been on the run since the mid-1970s, had been charged with first-degree murder and faced possible life sentences if convicted at trial.

The plea deal also meant that Patty Hearst – the newspaper heiress who was first kidnapped by the gang, then joined in their activities – would not be forced to retell the story of the bank robbery under oath.

Ms Hearst, who repudiated her association with the other SLA members after serving two years behind bars and who has since received a presidential pardon, has insisted for years that it was SLA member Emily Harris who pulled the trigger and who killed 41-year-old Myrna Opsahl at the Crocker National Bank in Carmichael.

On two occasions, prosecutors attempted to mount a trial based on Ms Hearst's testimony but gave up because she was deemed an unreliable witness and they could find no corroborating evidence for her story.

That attitude changed three years ago when police tracked down a late recruit to the SLA, Kathleen Soliah, who had been living incognito in Minnesota for years under the name Sara Jane Olson.

Last year, Ms Olson pleaded guilty in connection with the attempted bombing of two police cars in Los Angeles and began serving a sentence that is expected to last at least 14 years. The Opsahl murder case was revived shortly afterwards, and Ms Olson was arrested again, with Harris, Harris's former husband, Bill Harris, and another group member, called Michael Bortin.

The Harrises and Mr Bortin had all served out long sentences for other crimes for which the SLA was responsible and assumed they could return to normal lives.

It is not clear whether prosecutors have genuinely unearthed new evidence in the Opsahl case, or if they have merely taken advantage of a more gung-ho criminal justice climate to pressure the defendants into admissions of guilt. Because of the plea bargain, the identity of the killer in the Opsahl murder remains as elusive as ever.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
Katie Hopkins appearing on 'This Morning' after she purposefully put on 4 stone.
peopleKatie Hopkins breaks down in tears over weight gain challenge
Life and Style
fashionModel of the moment shoots for first time with catwalk veteran
Life and Style
fashionAngelina Jolie's wedding dressed revealed
Sport
Alexis Sanchez, Radamel Falcao, Diego Costa and Mario Balotelli
footballRadamel Falcao and Diego Costa head record £835m influx
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Madame Vastra and Jenny Flint kiss in Doctor Who episode 'Deep Breath'
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman topped the list of the 30 most influential females in broadcasting
tv
Life and Style
techIf those brochure kitchens look a little too perfect to be true, well, that’s probably because they are
Arts and Entertainment
Danish director Lars von Trier
tvEnglish-language series with 'huge' international cast set for 2016
Life and Style
tech
News
Kelly Brook
peopleA spokesperson said the support group was 'extremely disappointed'
Sport
Andy Murray celebrates a shot while playing Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
TennisWin sets up blockbuster US Open quarter-final against Djokovic
Arts and Entertainment
Hare’s a riddle: Kit Williams with the treasure linked to Masquerade
booksRiddling trilogy could net you $3m
Arts and Entertainment
Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand performs live
music Pro-independence show to take place four days before vote
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Secondary supply teachers needed in Peterborough

£21000 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: The JobAre you a trai...

Year 3 Teacher Cornwall

£23500 - £40000 per annum: Randstad Education Plymouth: Year 3 Primary Teacher...

HR Generalist (standalone) - Tunbridge Wells - £32,000

£30000 - £32000 per annum: Ashdown Group: HR Generalist (standalone) - Tunbrid...

Year 3 Teacher Plymouth

£23500 - £40000 per annum: Randstad Education Plymouth: Year 3 Primary Teacher...

Day In a Page

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

James Frey's literary treasure hunt

Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering