Kilgore must face ‘his debt to society’

All John Kilgore’s good behaviour since his Symbionese

Liberation Army (SLA) days could not absolve him of his debt to society, a son of SLA victim Myrna Opsahl said on Thursday.

”I’m certainly pleased to learn that he’s had the opportunity to change his methods and not participate in violent acts as he did back in 1975,” Dr Jon Opsahl said from Riverside, California.

”But all the good behaviour does not absolve him of his debt to society, and he does need to face these charges.”

Kilgore was arrested last week in Cape Town, where he has been living under an alias, and now faces extradition to the United States on charges including murder and armed robbery.

He was allegedly part of an SLA group that was robbing a Sacramento, California, bank in April 1975 when Mrs Opsahl (42) there to deposit church funds, was killed by a blast from a shotgun carried by an SLA member.

Kilgore’s employer, the University of Cape Town-linked

International Labour Resource and Information Group, this week described him as deeply committed to social justice, citing his service to union and community movements in South Africa and Zimbabwe.

The National Union of Metalworkers said he was ”not a

terrorist”, and said it would be a ”waste for humanity at large” if he was jailed.

Dr Opsahl, who has been campaigning for several years for his mother’s killers to be brought to justice, said the plea-bargain available to Kilgore did take account of the fact that had apparently self-rehabilitated.

Opsahl said his family — he has two brothers and a sister, and a 77-year-old father — recognised the time that had passed since the incident, the self-rehabilitation of the alleged perpetrators, and the fact that they now had families of their own.

The Opsahls were not out for revenge, were happy to avoid a long and traumatic trial, and believed that the plea-bargain sentence being offered by the Sacramento District Attorney — six years’ jail, in Kilgore’s case, of which he would likely serve only four — was appropriate.

”We just want to know the truth and hold these people

responsible for our mother’s death accountable,” he said.

Four other former SLA members, including the person who fired the fatal shot, Emily Montague, last week pleaded guilty to second degree murder in a Sacramento court, and face jail terms ranging from six to eight years in terms of a plea bargain agreement.

Opsahl, who attended last week’s hearing, urged Kilgore to accept the plea bargain, and to do so swiftly, as there was a time limit and he would have to be ready for sentencing on February 14.

He said kidnap victim turned machine-gun toting radical Patty Hearst had written in her published account of the killing that Montgue, then Emily Harris, had been holding the shotgun, and had claimed it went off by accident.

”An accident doesn’t make my mother any less dead,” he said.

Kilgore had been in the line of fire, behind Mrs Opsahl.

”My mother in effect saved his life,” Opsahl said.

Hearst had written that Harris said afterwards that Mrs Opsahl’s death did not matter because she was a ”bourgeois pig”.

”The truth is my mother’s death did matter. It’s wrong to use violence, and we can’t let people get away with terrorist activity like that. You can’t let people get away with murder. You’ve got to hold them accountable.”

Opsahl, who was 15 years old at the time of the killing, said he remembered the day of her death very clearly.

”At that time …it was a devastating loss to our family and to the community. She was a wonderful mother, and was involved in church and community activities,” he said.

Opsahl is now a doctor at Loma Linda University Medical Centre. His brothers and sister are all also medical professionals. – Sapa

We make it make sense

If this story helped you navigate your world, subscribe to the M&G today for just R30 for the first three months

Subscribers get access to all our best journalism, subscriber-only newsletters, events and a weekly cryptic crossword.”

Ben Maclennan
Guest Author

Related stories


Already a subscriber? Sign in here


Latest stories

Explainer: Why it is difficult to mine in South Africa

The Fraser Institute's annual survey of mining companies is not entirely wrong, South Africa is a difficult place to mine, say analysts

Asiatic black bear cubs saved from illegal wildlife trade in...

Two bear cubs, weighing only 2.4kg and 3.3kg, were rescued from a man intending to sell them on the illicit wildlife market

Afrofuturism meets Wabi-Sabi at Design Joburg

Architects, fashion designers and tastemakers descend on Johannesburg’s premium design event

How the ANC wants to re-evaluate cadre deployment during policy...

The party's decision to relook at the deployment process could result in a broadening of the pool of candidates for positions.

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…