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Attacker’s Upcoming Parole Tests Galanter’s Recovery : Crime: Councilwoman has made great strides since 1987 stabbing. Now she must confront new anger, fears.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Seven years is long enough for wounds to heal. It’s long enough for a voice that had been ripped away to regain much of its old strength. It’s even long enough to reach an accommodation with fear.

But for Los Angeles City Councilwoman Ruth Galanter, it is not nearly long enough to accept the impending freedom of the man who nearly killed her.

On Monday, Mark Allen Olds will complete his prison sentence for the attempted murder of Galanter and be paroled to an undisclosed location in Northern California. And Galanter will be forced to find a new equilibrium with her old wounds.

“As it gets closer, I am reliving lots of what happened,” Galanter said of Olds’ release. “I don’t like it any more this time than the last time. It is very painful.”

It may be hard for some to recall--in a city that has since been bombarded with the videotaped images of the Rodney G. King beating, the 1992 riots and the ongoing O.J. Simpson murder case--but the stabbing of Galanter in 1987 was one of the most stunning crimes of its time in Los Angeles.

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It happened in the spring of that year, in the pre-dawn darkness of Galanter’s bedroom in Venice. Olds, a drug user and onetime gang member, cut through a screen and entered an open kitchen window before plunging a knife twice into Galanter’s neck.

At the time, the victim had just emerged from her relative obscurity as an urban planner and environmentalist to become the upstart challenger for a seat on the Los Angeles City Council. She amazed police and paramedics by surviving her wounds, then inspired voters by staying in the race. In the end, she would upset one of the city’s most powerful and enduring political figures, City Council President Pat Russell, without ever leaving her hospital bed.

Seven years later, strangers still approach her in the supermarket to ask Galanter about her health. A policeman who was the first to find her that night stops to wish her well. And a young woman at a reception praises Galanter for her courage, then breaks down and cries.

Galanter has been approached this way time and again, but “it still shakes me up and comes at me sort of unexpectedly,” she said.

The most striking reminder of the crime, though, will come with Olds’ release. Officials at the state Department of Corrections declined to say exactly where the 34-year-old felon will be paroled, and Olds, through a prison spokeswoman, declined to be interviewed.

Corrections officials said he will be under their supervision for three years. He will be forced to report regularly to a parole officer and be subject to random home visits. Drug and alcohol tests will be administered. He will have to be home each night by 10.

Convicts are typically paroled into the county where they were convicted, but Olds will be released in Northern California, in part because Galanter has invoked her right as a victim of violent crime to have her attacker kept at least 35 miles from her home.

For Galanter, 53, a hard-earned sense of balance will be challenged by Olds’ release.

She has taken all the standard precautions. She owns two dogs and a more sophisticated alarm system, installed after she joined the City Council. She never leaves her windows unlocked at night. Los Angeles police officials have assured her they will be closely monitoring Olds’ progress.

But the emotional weight of her attacker’s freedom is still troubling. “I have no reason to believe that he has it in for me,” Galanter said. “But on the other hand, I have a friend who was attacked and raped. . . . When her attacker was let out of jail she had no reason to think he would come back, but it was very upsetting anyway.”

Olds confessed to the attack, but told a jury that he had not intended to harm Galanter. He said he came to her two-bedroom bungalow--across the street from a house he shared with a landlady and several other young men--in search of money or merchandise that would get him drugs. He said that he panicked when Galanter began to scream and stabbed her to stop the noise.

As a result, the jury found that Olds had not planned the attack--a crucial determination that meant he could only be convicted of second-degree attempted murder and not a premeditated, first-degree charge.

The difference meant that Olds was sentenced to 14 years and four months in prison, instead of life. With standard credits for good behavior and work assignments, he served a little more than half his time--an outcome that Galanter still finds hard to accept.

Nothing was stolen from the house that night and Galanter told the jury she did not scream until after she had been attacked. She still finds it hard to believe that Olds did not come to her house intending to hurt her.

To this day, Galanter said she is not sure why she was attacked. But on one point she is clear: “I deeply resented that they didn’t find premeditation. And the other issue that comes up now, that is getting a lot more attention, is why people don’t serve all the time they get sentenced to.”

Galanter said she is no latecomer to her tough view on criminals. Although she is a liberal on most issues, she became a supporter of the death penalty many years before her attack, after reading about the kidnap, rape and murder of a 2-year-old in Orange County.

She had been a victim once before. When she was a 24-year-old graduate student at Yale she was forced into her car at knifepoint and raped.

Galanter says: “I thought I had already had my hit in life. When this second (attack) came, that made it seem extra unfair.”

Although the rape nearly 30 years ago left her without serious physical injuries, the marks of the stabbing are ever-present. A small crater behind Galanter’s left ear marks the spot where the knife was first thrust. A patch of white skin remains where a second stab pierced a spot at the top of her esophagus. Thin white lines run down both sides of her neck, tracing where the surgeons went in to repair the damage.

The doctors’ work was remarkably successful, stopping the bleeding of a severed carotid artery and patching the tube that takes food to the stomach. But four cranial nerves could not be repaired. The result is that half of Galanter’s vocal cords and the left side of her esophagus remain permanently frozen.

Her voice is thinner and raspier than before, although it has gained much of its old strength. When she swallows, there is the odd sensation that only half of her gullet is working. And the loss of another nerve has made it impossible to raise her arm to vertical or to swim the crawl.

It was the diminution of her voice that hit Galanter the hardest.

“She had this great resonant voice,” said onetime aide Jim Bickhart. “It projected really well and it had been a real tool for her in her public life. She felt crippled when that was taken from her.”

Still, despite frequent throat clearing and some apparent exertion, Galanter pronounces her voice now “much better” than before.

As Olds’ release approaches, Galanter said, her emotional condition is harder to assess. She said she still gets twinges of anxiety when she sees her attacker’s identical twin, who was never a suspect in the case, near the boarding house where the two once lived.

The white-haired landlady who owns the house, just across the street, once assured the world that Olds was innocent and she still glowers from her front step at Galanter. Eugenia Easton said she blames the councilwoman for unwanted police attention, then quickly slammed her door in a reporter’s face, saying: “You people just want to stir up trouble.”

Although Galanter has made many friends in the neighborhood and seen “the best side of people,” she also can feel suddenly “saddened and disillusioned” walking in her neighborhood. It was here, after all, that she almost lost her life and that she can no longer open her windows, even on hot summer nights.

With the days growing shorter, she finds herself hurrying home from walks with her dogs, fearful of being caught out after dark.

“It sometimes makes me nervous,” she said, referring to Olds’ release. “But at the same time, I am going to try to live my life as normally as I can.”

Many friends and acquaintances ask why she simply didn’t move away. “That was something, just to walk back through that door into that house,” said Marcela Howell, who ran Galanter’s campaign against Russell. “It showed a level of courage.”

Galanter has had passing thoughts of moving, but there is an abiding anger that keeps her there. “I paid for that house,” she said. “I earned the right to be in that neighborhood. And I deserve to live there.”

Her perseverance continues to resonate, particularly among women. They are most often the ones who stop her to offer their good wishes--like the young woman from Vermont who recently stopped Galanter at a reception to say she admired her.

“Basically, what happened to me is the nightmare of every woman who lives alone,” Galanter said. “So many of the people who talk to me and say they prayed for me are women who lived alone.”

If anything positive came out of the attack, Galanter said, it is this quiet alliance with people she had never known. “That is really nice. It makes me feel like there really is a community here.”


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