How Do We Define Justice?

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Kathleen Ann Soliah, the former Palmdale resident accused of making terrorist bombs in the 1970s, was recently released on $1 million bail raised by family and friends who know her as Sara Jane Olson, a suburban St. Paul, Minn., homemaker.

In 1976, a grand jury charged that Soliah conspired with other members of the Symbionese Liberation Army to kill Los Angeles Police Department officers by planting pipe bombs underneath their cars. Soliah, who could face life in prison, has pleaded not guilty.

KARIMA A. HAYNES asked a peace officer, college professor and former mayor whether Soliah should be tried on the decades-old charges and what role prison plays in society.


CAPT. TOM PIGOTT / 52; commander, Lancaster Station, Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department

If the district attorney says there is enough evidence to pursue the case, it needs to be prosecuted. The crime was serious enough that the FBI spent 25 years looking for her. To say that we spent all this time and all these resources looking for you, and now we are going to forget it, only because you managed to marry a doctor and live a good life, is wrong. The original crime needs to be addressed. They were right in picking her up.

Because the ‘60s and ‘70s were a tumultuous time, people have a tendency to write off [actions] that we would not condone at any other period, simply because it was a time of civil disruption. Murder is murder, and attempted murder is attempted murder, whether done under the guise of protest or not.

I am a peace officer and I find that behavior to be particularly aberrant. If she is innocent, was not there at the time the crime was committed, not a member of the group, that is fine. If the evidence bears that out, then so be it.

The family of the woman who died in the bank robbery [attributed to the SLA] needs some closure. They need to know that everyone involved in this case has had their day in court and been brought to justice in some fashion.

The primary responsibility of the prison system is to protect society and punish offenders. I am concerned about prisons becoming a revolving door for career criminals. We need to find some way to reverse that trend. We need to get them away from the public and make them accountable. Rehabilitation plays a part, but that should not be the primary concern.


NORM LEVY / 63; chairman, Political Science Department, Pierce College

I have mixed feelings about the case. I have always felt that justice delayed is justice denied. It seems that we are living in very different times. Certainly, if there is enough evidence, and witnesses still exist, the crime was of such a magnitude that it would warrant trial. The problem of course is that there is an enormous change in the perception of the system today. Some of the most radical people have become very actively and constructively involved in the system. [Soliah] has apparently lived a very constructive life from what I have read in the papers, and I don’t know much beyond that.

If we are just incarcerating people for the purpose of punishing them, you have to ask: to what end? It is time to reexamine that policy. We should consider seriously how we could get people to make restitution, to literally show society that they have remorse and to show that through good deeds. Often in such cases, even though they are tried and convicted, the quality of mercy is tempered by changed circumstances. Justice without mercy is no justice.

LOU BOZIGIAN / 73; real estate broker, former mayor of Lancaster and former president of Antelope Valley Sheriff’s Boosters

She seems to have proven herself as a good citizen, but . . . if the district attorney’s office thinks it has enough information on the alleged crime to go to trial, then I believe that should be a decision it should make. If she is tried and convicted, the judge has the discretionary power to give her a lesser sentence or probation based on her current life.

In my view, prison is for punishment, reform and to protect society from criminals. Prison is a consequence for criminals who have been judged to have committed a crime and must stand for punishment of that crime. There should be an effort to reform anyone who really can be rehabilitated. . . . The role of prison is also to protect society from criminals, but there are different degrees of protection.