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Symbionese Liberation Army

The Symbionese Liberation Army is an American-based terrorist group that committed several murders and acts of violence in the early to mid 1970s. This group dates its formation from the escape of "Cinque" (Donald DeFreeze) from Soledad State Prison on 5 March 1973. DeFreeze had been active in the Black Cultural Association while at the California Medical Facility, a state prison facility in Vacaville, California, where he had made contacts with members of the radical political organization known as Venceremos. He sought refuge among these contacts, and ended up at a commune known as Peking House in the San Francisco Bay Area. For some time he shared living quarters with future SLA members Willie Wolfe and Russ Little, then moved in with Patricia Soltysik, also known as "Mizmoon." DeFreeze and Solytsik became lovers (DeFreeze was black, and Solytsik white, a fact that was significant in 1973) and began to outline the plans for forming the "Symbionese Nation."

"Death to the fascist insect that preys upon the life of the people." --motto of the Symbionese Liberation Army

The SLA committed their first revolutionary action in 6 November 1973 when they murdered Oakland, California schools superintendent Dr. Marcus Foster. They characterized Dr. Foster's plan to introduce identification cards into Oakland schools as "fascist." Ironically, Dr. Foster had opposed the use of identification cards in the Oakland schools, and his plan was a watered down version of similar plans that had been proposed by others. On 10 January 1974, Joe Remiro and Russ Little were arrested and charged with the murder of Dr. Foster. Little was ultimately acquitted on retrial, but Remiro was convicted and remains in prison.

The SLA was already planning their next action. Documents found by the FBI at one abandoned safehouse revealed plans set for the "full moon of 7 January". The FBI did not take any precautions and the SLA did not act until a month later. On 4 February, publishing heiress Patricia Hearst was kidnapped from her Berkeley apartment. The SLA demanded a ransom for her release, then, on 23 February, increased the demand by $4 million.

On 16 May 1974, William Harris and Emily Harris entered Mel's Sporting Goods Store in Inglewood, California. When his shoplifting attempt failed, William pointed a revolver at one of the store employees. The clerk knocked the gun from his hand, and had succeeded in placing a handcuff on William's left wrist when "Tania" --Patricia Hearst-- began shooting into the store from across the street with a rifle. Everyone in the store took cover, and the Harrises escaped.

The next day, an anonymous phone call to the LAPD stated that several people were staying at "her daughter's house" and that they had many weapons. That afternoon, more than 400 Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) officers, under the command of Captain Mervin King, along with the Federal Bureau of Investigations, California Highway Patrol, and Los Angeles Fire Department surrounded the neighborhood. The squad leader of a Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) team used a bullhorn to announce, "Occupants of 1466 East 54th Street, this is the Los Angeles Police Department speaking. Come out with your hands up!" A small child walked out, along with an older man. The man stated that no one else was in the house, and the child reported that several people were in the house with guns and ammo belts. After several other attempts to get anyone else to leave the house, a member of SWAT fired tear gas projectiles into the house, was answered by heavy bursts of automatic gunfire, and the battle began.

Two hours later, the house caught fire. The police again announced, "Come on out! The house is on fire! You will not be harmed." Two women left from the rear of the house and one came out the front; all were taken into custody, but were found to not be SLA members. Automatic weapons fire continued from the house. Two women charged from the burning building, still firing at the police, and were shot. After the shooting stopped and the fire was extinguished, nineteen firearms, including rifles, pistols, and shotguns were recovered, as well as the bodies of Nancy Ling Perry, Angela Atwood, William Wolfe (who was reputedly Patricia Hearst's lover), Donald DeFreeze ("Cinque"), Patricia Soltysik ("Mizmoon"), and Camilla Hall.

On 21 April 1975, members of the SLA robbed the Crocker National Bank in Carmichael, California and killed Myrna Opsahl, a bank customer, in the process. Patty Hearst, after being granted immunity from prosecution, stated that Emily Harris, Kathleen Soliah, Michael Bortin, and James Kilgore actually committed the robbery, while she and Wendy Yoshimura were getaway drivers and William Harris and Steven Soliah acted as lookouts. Hearst also stated that Opsahl was killed by Emily Harris.

On 21 August 1975, Kathleen Soliah failed in her attempt to kill officers of the LAPD when her bombs would not detonate. Soliah remained a fugitive until her arrest in 1999. In 2001, she pled guilty to possession of explosives with the intent to murder and was sentenced to two consecutive ten-years-to-life terms.

On 16 January 2002, first-degree murder charges for the killing of Myrna Opsahl were filed against Soliah, the Harrises, Bortin, and Kilgore. All were immediately arrested except for James Kilgore, who remained at large for nearly another year. On 7 November, the first four pleaded guilty to those charges. Emily Harris, now known as Emily Montague, admitted to being the one holding the murder weapon, but said that the shotgun went off accidentally. According to Patty Hearst, Montague had dismissed the murder at the time saying, "She was a bourgeois pig anyway. Her husband is a doctor." In court, Montague denied that remark, and said "I do not want [the Opsahl family] to believe that we ever considered her life insignificant." On 8 November 2002, the day after the guilty pleas, James Kilgore, who had been a fugitive since the 1975, was arrested in South Africa. In addition to the Opsahl murder, Kilgore was wanted on charges of possession of explosives.

Sentences were handed out on 14 February 2003 in Sacramento, California for all four defendants. Montague was sentenced to eight years for the murder. Her former husband, William Harris, got seven years, and Bortin got six years. Soliah had six years added to the 14-year sentence she is already serving. All sentences were the maximum allowed under their plea bargains.

See BOULTON, David. The making of Tania Hearst. Bergenfield, N.J., U.S.A.: New American Library, 1975. 224+[12] p., ill., ports., facsim., index, 22 cm. Also published: London, G.B.: New English Library, 1975.

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