James Kilgore, one of the nation’s most wanted fugitives for a quarter-century and the last of five former Symbionese Liberation Army members to face murder charges in a 28-year-old bank robbery killing, pleaded guilty Tuesday.
Kilgore, 55, entered his plea -- to second-degree murder -- in a courtroom about a dozen miles from the suburban Sacramento bank where the SLA netted $15,000 in cash and Myrna Opsahl, 42, died from a shotgun blast. Opsahl, wife of a Carmichael surgeon and mother of four, entered the Crocker National Bank minutes before the April 21, 1975, robbery to deposit money from the offering at her church.
“It was never my intention, or that of anyone else, to harm anyone,” Kilgore said, after he admitted he entered the bank that day with a revolver and took part in the robbery. “I accept full responsibility for my actions on that tragic day. I apologize with all my heart to the Opsahl family.”
Four other former members of the SLA, notorious for the 1974 kidnapping of 19-year-old newspaper heiress Patricia Hearst, pleaded guilty to the murder charges in November.
Months later in dramatic February courtroom scenes, all apologized to Opsahl’s husband and children, and are now serving six- to eight-year state prison sentences.
Kilgore will be sentenced Aug. 15 and under his plea agreement will serve six years in prison.
He will also pay an undetermined amount of restitution to the Opsahl family. He is barred from profiting from selling his story, and any money he makes from such a sale will go to a nursing scholarship in Opsahl’s name.
South African police arrested Kilgore last fall in Cape Town, South Africa, where he had worked since 1996 as a university professor under the name of Charles William Pape.
Kilgore, married and the father of two sons, spent more than two decades in Zimbabwe and South Africa after disappearing from San Francisco on Sept. 18, 1975, the day FBI agents arrested Hearst and four other SLA members.
The former honors student, golf and baseball letterman at San Rafael High School in Marin County graduated from UC Santa Barbara in 1969 before joining the SLA.
Kilgore also faces up to 15 years in prison on federal explosives charges and passport fraud. Prosecutors say he participated in a statewide SLA bombing campaign in the 1970s and used a dead baby’s birth certificate after his disappearance to obtain a passport in Seattle. Kilgore pleaded guilty to both charges and will be sentenced June 30.
His attorneys said in February that their client would plead guilty to Opsahl’s murder in expectation of receiving the same sentences as his former SLA colleagues.
They are Emily Montague, 56, an Altadena computer consultant; her ex-husband, William Harris, 58, an Oakland private investigator; Sara Jane Olson, 56, a St. Paul, Minn., housewife formerly known as Kathleen Soliah; and Michael Bortin, 55, a Portland, Ore., flooring contractor.
Sacramento County authorities filed the charges in January 2002, nearly 27 years after the robbery and shooting.