The Jan and Jon Show
After throwing the book at the Sacramento DA, Jon Opsahl finds himself paraded in front of the media with Jan Scully
For two years, Jon Opsahl harangued, pleaded and demanded that Sacramento District Attorney Jan Scully bring murder charges against his mother’s killers.
Opsahl had become so frustrated with Scully’s reluctance to pursue murder charges against members of the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA) that he began issuing broadsides, in the media and on his own Web site, harshly criticizing the DA and accusing her office of bungling the case (see “Obstruction of Justice,” SN&R, January 10).
So on January 16, when Scully called a press conference to announce the arrests of four alleged SLA members accused of taking part in the 1975 Carmichael bank robbery that left Myrna Opsahl dead, Jon Opsahl felt a little odd sharing the podium with her. More so after Scully led Opsahl out of the conference room and the two promenaded, shoulder to shoulder, to her office several blocks away. Dozens of photographers were on hand to capture their moment of togetherness.
“It was totally uncomfortable. I felt I had to show we were on the same team. At the same time I felt like she was trying to capitalize on the photo op,” Opsahl said.
But since the arrests, Opsahl said he’s ready to assume a less confrontational role.
“None of that matters now,” Opsahl told the SN&R late last week. “Now that they have followed through, it really doesn’t matter. I need to support them.”
At Wednesday’s announcement of the arrests Opsahl played nice, saying that he “hadn’t been aware of everything that was going on behind the scenes” during the yearlong investigation carried out by a task force assigned to take another look at the 1975 Carmichael bank robbery.
Still, he couldn’t help adding that it was “about time” that his mother’s killers were brought to justice.
Scully had little to say about the timing of the arrests, saying only that “the state of the evidence today has convinced me that now is the time to seek justice for Myrna Opsahl.”
Scully noted that FBI investigators had used new technology not available at the time of the bank robbery to link shotgun pellets pulled from Myrna Opsahl’s body to shotgun shells found that same year in an SLA hideout in San Francisco. That evidence had been available to Scully for over a year, after it had been turned up by Los Angeles prosecutors working on the case against Sara Jane Olson. In fact, even with the new ballistics evidence, Scully determined that the Carmichael bank robbery case could not be prosecuted back in January 2001.
The timing of the arrests has been the subject of speculation since the announcement last week. The arrests came two days before Sara Jane Olson was sentenced for her participation in a conspiracy to explode pipe bombs under LAPD patrol cars in the fall of 1975.
Scully had been aggressively lobbied by L.A. prosecutors to bring charges in the Carmichael case, and she may have timed the arrests to pre-empt another round of criticism of her office that likely would have followed Olson’s sentencing, and possibly to head off a move by the Los Angeles district attorney to steal the case out from under Scully and bring charges in Southern California.
There is also some indication that Scully was feeling pressure from the news media. Jon Opsahl said that both Robert Bell, an investigator for the Sacramento DA’s office, and Craig Hill, a Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department investigator, told him that Scully had a copy of the SN&R cover story of January 10 and saw it as a “preview of things to come,” following Olson’s sentencing.
Whatever Scully’s motivations, Opsahl is glad the long-dormant case of his mother’s murder is finally seeing the light of day.
“She made the right decision. I just hope it was for the right reasons," said Opsahl.