SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- Four graying, middle-aged former members of the Symbionese Liberation Army pleaded guilty to the killing of a bank customer to escape a time warp that has trapped them for a quarter-century, they and their attorneys said.
"It's the end of a whole thing that happened in the 1970s," said attorney Stuart Hanlon, whose client, Emily Montague, admitted pulling the trigger. "Emily and the others have accepted what they've done, they've lived with it for this long and it really hurt them -- and it's over."
Montague, William Harris, Michael Bortin and Sara Jane Olson, of St. Paul, pleaded guilty to murder Thursday in the shotgun slaying of Myrna Opsahl on April 21, 1975, during a robbery of the Crocker National Bank in suburban Sacramento.
After the guilty pleas, Bortin said he and the other former members of the revolutionary group wanted closure for themselves, for Opsahl's family and for a generation that tried to change the world.
"I feel terrible for all the nonviolent people that were really idealistic and well-intentioned in the '60s," said Bortin, who admitted waving a gun and announcing the robbery. "We kind of deflected some bad karma on them."
The SLA became prominent when it kidnapped newspaper heiress Patricia Hearst in 1974, whose testimony was expected to be key if the case went to trial.
Hearst and the defendants were still settling old scores Thursday. Montague denied ever calling Opsahl a "bourgeois pig," as Hearst alleged in her 1982 book, "Every Secret Thing."
"It wasn't true. I just wanted to clear it up because I felt like it was something (Opsahl's family) had agonized over," Montague said outside the courtroom.
In pleading guilty, Montague said she was "horrified at the time."
"There has not been a day in the last 27 years that I have not thought of Mrs. Opsahl and the tragedy I brought on her family," she said.
The four face sentencing Feb. 14. Montague will be sentenced to eight years in prison, and Harris, her former husband, will get seven years for leading the group and keeping an armed watch outside the bank. Bortin and Sara Jane Olson each face six years in prison.
Olson, who is already in prison, will serve her sentence after completing her 14-year term for a 1975 attempt to blow up two Los Angeles police cars.
The others will remain free until their sentencing. Their prison terms could be cut by as much as half if they behave and obtain jobs or schooling while in prison.
A fifth and final suspect, James Kilgore, remains at large.
An agreement resulting in the guilty pleas came together this week after months of negotiations between prosecutors and defense attorneys.
"This is an old case. There was a lot of risk on either side," said Hanlon. "Our clients ... were risking life in prison if they lost. It's not a risk for 50-plus-year-old people to take."
Opsahl's family had agreed to the prison sentences, as long as her killers admitted their responsibility in court, paid restitution and agreed to give up any profits from telling their stories, prosecutors said.
"The major goal here was to have them take responsibility for taking a life," said Loyola Law School professor Laurie Levenson, who has followed the case. "Was it perfect justice? No."
Thursday's guilty pleas and courtroom statements essentially mirrored Hearst's account of the bank robbery, which netted $15,000 in cash and wound up with what Montague says was an unintentional shooting.
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