December 31, 1999 12:00 PM

On a pleasant Minnesota Wednesday this past June, Sara Jane Olson—churchgoing volunteer, mother of three, wife of a physician and popular local stage actress—was on her way to teach English to a class of recent immigrants in St. Paul. Before she got there, Kathleen Soliah—alleged ’70s radical, Symbionese Liberation Army member and fugitive for 24 years—was arrested by FBI agents and charged with conspiracy to commit murder. Biologically and biographically, Olson and Soliah are the same person, the former an identity built to obliterate the latter. But just as the America of 1999 is a lifetime removed from the saga of Patty Hearst and the attempted bombing of two Los Angeles police cars that Soliah is charged with, so is the 52-year-old woman who will be going on trial in February. Says family friend Andy Dawkins, a Minnesota state representative and lawyer: “The real story is that the woman that we’ve all known as Sara for all these years—that’s really who she is.” The case against Olson (she changed her name legally last summer, after her arrest) is hardly open-and-shut. Built from the beginning largely on circumstantial evidence, it hasn’t been helped by the passage of time. Key witnesses have died, the passions of the era are distant, and the woman who will be sitting in the dock during her trial will scarcely seem a threat to society. But to members of the LAPD, the passing years—and the upright life that Olson has lived with husband Fred and their three daughters—do not excuse the crime of which she stands accused. Sgt. Dennis Zine, a 31-year LAPD veteran, told the Minneapolis Star Tribune, “We either have laws or we don’t. And just because she’s married to a doctor and has become a nice mother” doesn’t mean she should get special treatment. As she faces up to a day she no doubt dreaded during all the years she lived under her assumed identity, Sara Jane Olson’s fears are centered not on the Kathleen Soliah in her past but on the life she had imagined for her future. Speaking of her years with her husband, who says he did not know of her earlier life until her arrest, she says, “I guess we both find it unbelievable that we may not be allowed to grow old together, but we avoid that aspect of our situation when we’re together.”

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