, born circa 1947 Emily Montague Schwartz
, was, along with her husband William Harris
, a founding member of the Symbionese Liberation Army
(SLA), a leftist United States
group involved in bank robberies, kidnapping and murder.
Harris was the daughter of a middle class engineer. She graduated from Indiana University
with a BA in language arts. She received straight A's at Indiana University
and was smart and popular, and a member of Chi Omega
. She was briefly a junior high school English teacher.
Founding the Symbionese Liberation Army
Emily and Bill Harris arrived in Berkeley, California
in 1973 from Bloomington, Indiana
. They came with their friends Gary Atwood
and Angela Atwood
. They soon joined a radical group, visited prisoners in northern California through a prison visitation program, meeting Donald DeFreeze
, who had recently escaped from prison. They joined the SLA, created by Mizmoon Soltysik
and Nancy Perry along with original members, Joseph Remiro, Russ Little
, Willie Wolfe, Angela Atwood, Theo Wheeler and Camilla Hall. Harris' nom de guerre
was Yolanda. On November 6th, the SLA committed its first public act, the assassination of popular Oakland, California
school superintendent Marcus Foster
. The SLA mistakenly thought that Foster was behind a plan to require student identification cards in Oakland high schools.
Later SLA and Opsahl murder
Emily and Bill Harris came to lead the SLA after six other SLA members died in a Los Angeles
shootout with police and the house fire it triggered. After the fire, the Harrises spent over a year on the run with kidnapping victim Patty Hearst
and new members Kathleen Soliah
(renamed Sara Jane Olson), Mike Bortin, Jim Kilgore, Josephine Soliah, Steve Soliah and Wendy Yoshimura. Hearst had since become an active participant in SLA crimes herself. Yoshimura, Patty's closest friend while underground, was a fugitive for her involvement with explosives that were stored in a garage she rented. During that year the SLA committed a string of crimes, including an April 21, 1975 robbery of Crocker National Bank
in Sacramento, California
. During the robbery, 42-year old Myrna Opsahl was shotgunned to death. Opsahl was depositing a church collection at the time. Patty Hearst stated in her 1982 autobiography Every Secret Thing
that Emily was the shooter. Hearst also stated that Harris said "Oh, she's dead, but it doesn't really matter. She was a bourgeois pig anyway. Her husband is a doctor." Other SLA members had urged Harris not to bring the shotgun to the robbery, as it had accidentally gone off twice during preparations.
The Harrises were eventually arrested and served eight years in prison for the Hearst kidnapping.
Imprisoned at the California Institution for Women at Frontera, California, Emily Harris spent the first half of her term in solitary confinement. When released to the main yard she organized a conference attended by 200 parole officers, probation officers and county social workers at the prison focused on helping women prisoners maintain relationships with their children. Through her efforts the first ever children's visiting center was created, complete with toys, so the children would not be so bored when visiting. (This center was dismantled some years later when the administration decided it wasn't as important as a secure visiting center for inmates who were not allowed to see visitors except through glass walls.) Emily learned computer programming in prison.
Life after first prison term
After her release from prison, Harris became a computer programmer and began a successful computer consulting company. She worked at MGM Studios until her second conviction. She divorced her husband and lived with another woman for many years in Los Angeles
. Together they purchased a two-bedroom home in Altadena, California
Opsahl murder charges
For over 25 years no one was charged in the Opsahl murder. The SLA wore wigs and masks during the Crocker Bank robbery, and left little evidence behind. However, with new forensics techniques, the FBI was eventually able to link shotgun pellets removed from Opsahl's body to shotgun shells found in an SLA hideout. Additional evidence mounted, and in 2002 Harris and three other SLA members were charged with the Opsahl murder. Harris's bail was set at one million US dollars, which her supporters quickly gathered.
Three former SLA members who had been granted immunity - Hearst, Steven Soliah, and Wendy Yoshimura - were set to testify for the prosecution in the Opsahl case.
Facing a possible conviction, Harris and the others pleaded guilty to second-degree murder. Harris was sentenced to eight additional years in prison; Bill Harris was sentenced to seven years and Kathleen Soliah and Michael Bortin were each sentenced to six years for their roles. Mike Bortin and Bill Harris were recently released from prison, and Emily Harris is expected to be released within the next year. Sara Jane Olson (an alias used by Kathleen Soliah) was due to be released in 2009 but was instead released Monday, March 17, 2008 . She was re-arrested on March 21, less than a week after being released because officials had found that an "administrative error" had been made resulting in Olson being released a year early . Chief Deputy Secretary Scott Kernan, a spokesman for the California Department of Corrections, called the error "an aberration" and indicated that the earliest date on which she will be released is March 17, 2009 .