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Continued: Sara Jane Olson's back home, but declines comment

Former 1970s militant and longtime fugitive Sara Jane Olson returned to her St. Paul home Wednesday night to try to put her life back together after seven years in prison.

Sporting her distinctive silver shoulder-length bob, sunglasses, a tan trench coat and a wide smile, Olson arrived about 7 p.m. at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport from Sacramento, Calif., and soon afterward was driven into the garage of her Highland Park neighborhood home, dodging a sea of reporters and photographers and declining to comment at both places.

She was accompanied by her husband, Gerald (Fred) Peterson, and other family members.

A young woman who answered a Star Tribune reporter's knock at the door about 9 p.m. said, "My mother is home and she's happy. Please give us privacy." A man who left the house shortly afterward also said Olson was in the house and would have no public statement.

The former Kathleen Soliah, who was released from prison in California early Tuesday, returned to a swirling debate about whether she should be allowed to serve her probation in Minnesota rather than California.

She must check in with Ramsey County corrections officials within 24 hours of her arrival in Minnesota.

All day Wednesday, the street outside her family's house was choked with journalists, TV equipment and vehicles, but until late in the day, the highlight for those keeping watch was the sight of a raccoon scampering across the roof.

Children who whizzed by on scooters and bikes and the steady stream of neighbors walking dogs by looked on with a mixture of curiosity and fatigue.

Margaret Gorbatenko, who walked past with her children, said she supported Olson's return to her husband and family.

"I lost my husband about the time she left," Gorbatenko said. "I know what it's like to lose a spouse," referring to Peterson's years without his imprisoned wife.

Olson, 62, served half of a 14-year sentence after pleading guilty to participating in the deadly 1975 robbery of a Sacramento-area bank and helping place pipe bombs under Los Angeles Police Department patrol cars.

She was associated with the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA), a violent leftist group notorious for kidnapping newspaper heiress Patty Hearst.

Her departure from California came on the same day the Los Angeles police union argued against her return to Minnesota. As a fugitive, Olson was not a legal resident of St. Paul, said Paul Weber, president of the Los Angeles Police Protective League.

"She had no legal status there," Weber said, "but instead used it as a base for her continuous effort to hide from law enforcement and escape prosecution for her crimes."

Olson lived for more than 20 years in St. Paul as a wanted former member of the SLA. Her arrest in 1999 blew her cover as a wife, mother, community-theater actress and DFL activist and eventually led to her conviction and imprisonment.

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation said Olson's release to Minnesota complied with an interstate compact allowing her to serve her one-year parole in another state.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty said he wanted Olson to serve her parole in California, but corrections officials in California granted her request to do so in Minnesota.

However, the police union said, it found that Olson's release to another state appears to violate the law governing geographic placement of parolees. The statute requires, according to the union, that a person be paroled to the county that was the last legal residence before his or her incarceration.

In a letter sent California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Weber expressed his union's disappointment in Olson being free to go to Minnesota and urged him to intervene.

The letter also presented the union's skepticism that Olson would be held accountable for parole violations.

In response, Chris Crutchfield, spokesman for Ramsey County corrections, said, "We take our supervision duties in Ramsey County very seriously and that includes Ms. Olson."

jhopfensperger@startribune.com • 612-673-4511 mlsmith@startribune.com • 612-673-4788 pwalsh@startribune.com • 612-673-4482

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