Crime and Punishment Criminal Justice Gangs Juvenile Justice

Two Cases, Two Kinds of Justice


Six years ago, Kathleen Soliah AKA Sara Jane Olson
, a former member of Symbionese Liberation Army (the group that kidnapped Patty Hearst) pled guilty to second degree murder for her part in a bank robbery where a customer was killed by one of her cohorts. Olson also pled to “two counts of attempted explosion of a destructive device with intent to commit murder” for her failed attempt to blow up a police car. Olson as served six years of a 12 year sentence and was released from prison this week. The rationale was that her sentence could be cut in half because Olson was a model prisoner, worked while she was locked up and was a middle class mom, married to a surgeon, thus no danger to society.

(Olson was on the lam from 1975 to 1999, sentenced in 2001. The LA Times has the rest of the story in case you want to read it.)

Then in another part of town,
the Long Beach prosecutor’s office announced Thursday that it intended to try two kids ages fourteen and fifteen as adults for the shooting death of another kid, a sixteen year old. Naturally gangs were involved.

If convicted, the two teenagers will get a minimum
of 50 years to life in prison. But with the gang allegations that the DA’s office is already lining up, the sentences will more likely be 75 years or longer.

Olson did whatever she did when she was in her early 20’s and got caught up with cult (sort of like a gang) that was retaliating because the the death of her friends (sort of like gangsters might).

Broadly speaking, the case of Eric Benites,
15, and Jason Trejo, 14, has some similarities. Both participated in the death of another—a sixteen year old named Florentino Rivera, whom Benites and Trejo are accused of shooting on January 6, when they fired into a group of gang members with whom Rivera was standing.

As with Olson, Benites and Trejo were retaliating
for another killing: Eric Benites 13-year-old brother, Jose Cano, was stabbed to death this past summer. According to Long Beach Press-Telegram’s Tracy Manzer, an excellent reporter who’s been covering the story, Benites was incarcerated in a juvenile facility at the time of his baby brother’s murder so couldn’t go to the funeral.

So when he got out, he went crazy. He tried to get his gang, the East Side Longos, to retaliate for his brother’s death, but they didn’t—perhaps in part because those alleged murderers were locked up awaiting trial for the crime. (The story of the younger brother’s death is its own strange and tragic drama. Here’s Manzer’s account.)

Thus fifteen-year Eric Benito got his friend Jason Trejo
, and the two of them allegedly got guns and, incredibly, decided to shoot at Eric’s own gang (an all but suicidal act)—which also happened to be his brother’s gang. They hit Florentino Rivera, a kid who it appears was not in a gang at all ,but had the tragically bad luck to be standing with gangsters.

Tracy Manzer was in court today when the two kids were charged.
She told me afterward that Benito and Trejo were drowning in the adult sized jail sweatshirts, the sleeves pooling around their skinny arms. “Trejo doesn’t even look fourteen,” she said.

After talking to neighbors and friends of the two alleged shooters
, Tracy said that both boys seemed to have less than ideal home lives. No dads on the scene, moms with a string of kids from different men. “I heard Benito’s mom would brag about how tough her sons were,” Tracy says. “The mom would say, ‘Esta cabron.’ ” He’s an S.O.B, a badass. And records show that the now dead younger kid, the 13-year-old, hadn’t been in school since he was 11.

Okay, so let’s go over our tally: We have two kids dead and three angry, damaged kids
likely going away for the rest of their lives. (The sixteen year old who allegedly stabbed the 13-year old is being tried as an adult too.)

And the middle-aged, middle class white lady does six years. Sure. That works. Some lives are evidently just a little more worth saving than others.


  • But you said it yourself, Celeste. She was a nice WHIT Middle Class Housewifewho was in the PTA back in the Twin Cities. I was amazed they even prosecuted her and, if she hadn’t been accused of trying to blow up police cars and drawing the wrath of the protective league, probably would have skated.

    Years ago a guard was killed in an armored car robbery in NY. After a few years the fugitives were caught – Weather Underground. One was Kathy Boudin, daughter of the lawyer. She got a light sentence and Nick Von Hoffman – then writing for the WaPo wrote a column called “Miss American Pie” (Guess that dates the story to the day the music died – remember?) That piece about said it all.

  • First thing, put Benito’s mom and her boyfriends on the Jerry Springer show. Find out who are the fathers. Then let them get into a big fight and kill themselves or shoot them.

    If you’re of the mind to want to puke, get this write-up from that ultra-conservative LA Times, where they called Soliah “a fetching high school pep-squad member turned fugitive.”

    So, Celeste, the next time anyone criticizes you, just remind them that you were a fetching college song girl which should give you a pass.

    The fact that she was considered “no threat to society” is not reason enough to release her. Prison is as much about punishment as it is protecting the public.

    It’s too bad that those kids weren’t the offspring of a surgeon and lived in a middle class neighborhhod.

  • Wait. I have to take that back about Patty Hearst not serving time, as my memory was wrong. But, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton helped clear that up. Here’s the timeline:

    9/18/75 The SLA comes to an effective end. Several of the group’s new associates, placed under surveillance by the FBI in hopes they would lead agents to Hearst and the Harrises, do their job. Hearst is arrested in an apartment with other SLA members.

    1/15/76 The trial of Patty Hearst begins.

    3/20/76 Patty Hearst is convicted of bank robbery.

    3/26/76 Attorney Vincent Hallinan publicly denounces the legal defense of Hearst. He says, “No amount of negligence, stupidity, or idiocy could have loused up the case worse than the way it was loused up . . .”

    2/1/79 Hearst is released from prison after only serving twenty-two months, her seven-year prison term having been commuted by President Jimmy Carter.

    6/16/99 Kathleen Soliah (who adopted the pseudonym, Sara Jane Olson) surrenders without incident to police in Minnesota.

    October 1999 Hearst is ordered to testify against Soliah/Olsen for the prosecution.

    1/20/01 Patty Hearst is granted a full pardon by President Bill Clinton on the final day of his presidency.

    10/31/01 Just before her trial, Soliah/Olsen pleads guilty to attempting to bomb two police cars. She is sentenced to at least five years in prison.

    So, it would also help those kids if their parents were big contributors to the Democratic Party.

  • Woody you can’t compare Sara Jane Olson to Patty Hearst. Did you conveniently forget to mention Patty Hearst was kidnapped? Patty Hearst was probably raped, drugged, brainwashed, tortured and who knows what else, they did to her. As usual Woody claims “the Democrats did it”.

    The story of the mother (Eva Daley) who took her kids to seek revenge on the first murder victim 13yr. old Jose Cano, and the other mother of Eric Benites and Jose Cano, are some piece of work. These mothers are a good argument for having a government system to first qualify a mother before pregnancy. The parents of these kids should all also be in jail.

  • Lost Res, the jury that heard all of the evidence found Patty Hearst gulity. You say what “probably” happened to Hearst and drew your conclusion from that. Please don’t serve on any juries.

    After Hearst started later attacking F. Lee Bailey for the way he handled her defense, Bailey said he would have to reveal a lot of things that she may not want coming out to defend himself from her attacks. She then shut-up. Maybe she was kidnapped, but she wasn’t innocent–until Bill Clinton said so. The Democrats did “do it.”

    On the mothers, I read the information quickly and may not have gotten all of the names, so there are more candidates for the Jerry Springer show. But, you can’t and should not take a parent to jail when a child does wrong. To begin to solve youth crime, you have to look beyond economics and look at the cultures with the parenting problems. If it’s primarily blacks and Mexicans, then quit pussyfooting around the obvious and start working on values within those communities.

  • Woody, being from Georgia and a CPA excuses your ignorance on the Hearst case but I have a lot of friends in the SF legal community and the consnesus was that she would walk for the reasons that “lost” mentioned. There was shock when she didn’t. And the bad-mouthing of Bailey didn’t start with Patty and her family. Melvin Belli was genuinely hurt that they didn’t go to him and spread the word all over town that F. Lee was a hack who blew the case and that if he (Mel) was running things she would never had needed a pardon in the first place!

    Oh, and I can tell you there was more than a little class resentment going on there. Very little sympathy for an heiress even if she was kidnapped. Imagine Paris Hilton getting snatched and multiply and you’ll get some idea of the climate up there.

  • And I guess this is news to you – a pardon doesn’t confer “Innocence”. It is what it says – a Pardon for actions committed. Sorry but watching “Law and Order” doesn’t make you a mouthpiece. Just a (big) mouth!

  • Tbese two kids’ lives are tragic in general all right, but Pleeeze, don’t try to force some sort of analogy to Olson.

    She committed her crimes well over 30 years ago and have proved she’s not a threat to society, and the shooting she was involved in was committed by someone else during a bank robbery. Those were the days glorifying the Black Panthers, Malcolm X openly preaching revolution in the streets, and wealthy girls (brainwashed or otherwise) renaming themselves after Che Guevara’s sister “to fit in.” Of course she should have been punished and she was. But she was a different person then, and probably don’t own any Che T-shirts anymore. (If she’s even seen in one, lock her up again! Can blowing up cars be far behind?)

    These two kids, on the other hand, are a danger NOW, choosing to get a gun and shoot someone else — an innocent victim who just happened to be hanging around with gangbangers. Sure I can understand Benites’ fury over his brother getting killed (while he was in juvinile hall, so had a rap sheet already, no doubt part of the reasoning behind the long sentence) at 13. The real crime is that the mother isn’t the one locked up — letting the kid skip school since age 11 and boasting of how tough he was! So he was sadly put in harm’s way, made a likely gang target, but that mother.

    As for the other kid, if he doesn’t have a rap sheet and just went along, he shouldn’t be getting as much — unless he’s the one who pulled the trigger. If he wasn’t the shooter, he should definitely get rahab and less time. It’s generally tragic that juvie halls are training/recruiting grounds for gangs, not exactly “reformatories.” They should have more of those Outward-Bound type programs, where kids are put into tough, physically and mentally challenging programs to give them a chance to break out of their “culture.”

  • There’s another story alleging dual justice playing out in Long Island, NY, but in reverse. (Video and reportage on Ch. 7 New York online.) In 2006, a 17-year old called Daniel Cicciaro and his friends got into an argument with a black kid called Aaron White at a private party, and, in an enebriated state, followed him home to continue the fight. They stayed in their car, but wanted to call out Aaron for a fight.

    Aaron woke up his dad and told him “a lynch mob” was outside, and John White grabbed a gun, ran outside and shot Daniel in the face at point-blank (3-inch) range. The trial played out with strong racial undertones, the defense justifying the murder as based on America’s history, White Sr. had a right to view these boys as “a lynch mob” and fear for his life. The boys were unarmed, just drunken and used bad judgment, obviously, following Aaron home.

    Yesterday John White was sentenced to just 2-4 years in jail instead of the max. 15, and was out on $200,000 bail awaiting an appeal — he’s demanding a jury trial. Daniel’s father was furious, claiming racial preference, and demanding “how will John White feel when Aaron White gets shot the same way?” He and many supporters were furious that White has served no time and has appealed to avoid serving even the min. 2 years.

    The White family now has around-the-clock police protection and has threatened to file suit against Cicciaro for “hate speech.” Listening to the tape, Cicciaro sounds like an angry and betrayed father, not like someone making a personal threat, but he’s cooled down since yesterday, clearly trying to stave off a lawsuit. To black supporters, the Whites are the victims here and the racial divide on both sides has grown.

  • Good grief. You folks are still up in arms about Patty Hearst?! I better not say anything like O.J. is really guilty.

    rlc, despite your snotty attitude, I had immediately taken back my comment on innocence with no time served. However, some sources say that a pardon removes guilt.

    Article II, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution gives the president “Power to grant reprieves and pardons for offenses against the United States, except in cases of impeachment.” A reprieve reduces the severity of a punishment without removing the guilt of the person reprieved. A pardon removes both punishment and guilt. Source: Institute of Governmental Studies, University of California – Berkeley

  • That’s right Woody and it is the reason that Shrub “reprieved” Scooter. Had he paredon Libby Henry Waxman – for example – could have subpoened Cheney’s ex COS and compelled his testimony under threat of jailing for contermpt since no self-incrimination would be involved. But the reprieve leaves Libby’s appeal intact and, thus, his 5th amdt right to silence.

  • You know what? I’m perfectly willing to deport anyone here, legally or not, who commits a mjor felony.

    Now are you willing to jial employers who hire undocumented illegally? And tell me how you deport 12 million or so people without turning us into even more of a faschist state than we already are!

  • People have been wondering why it’s only been reported on Fox, a week after the arrest of Espinoza was announced, that he was an illegal and had a long rap sheet in recent years for a number of criminal activities including aggravating circ’s of possession of a firearm. (Frank’s post.) At the time of the announcement, didn’t Bratton chew out Leo Stallworth, Ch. 7th veteran black reporter, who said it seemed to the community part of the spike in racial hate crimes?

    Appalling that Espinoza committed this crime day after he got out of prison, which had been a revolving door for him. Year before he and a friend had been intimidating people from using a park in Culver City with gang signs and guns. An accomplice in the Shaw murder is still on the loose.

    Especially ironic because this week, Councilman Ed Reyes blamed the residents of the Westisde, those horrible people responsible for everything wrong in the city, for taking all the park space in the city for themselves, and that’s why his and other poor districts have more obese kids. Sadly, when there are parks, without a huge, virtually military police presence, parks turn into gang hangouts where normal people are afraid to go — like McArthur park. (Meanwhile, Jan Perry is blaming obsesity among the poor on fast food restaurants, which she wants to ban. What about personal choice and lifestyle changes?)

    This comment about Reyes is not just tangential, since he’s also the head of the Planning Committee, in which capacity he’s pushing for the high-density, no or very reduced parking developments right next to single family homes and duplexes, to allegedly “create affordable housing.” He lashed out at Zev Y and those awful westside and Valley NC’s who actually want to preserve their quality of life, eliciting an angry reply from one such woman who showed up at city hall just to accuse him of fostering class warfare. Las Lomas vote pretty much came down along the same lines, with Jan Perry going with the majority although she favors density in her district — maybe she got a deal. (

    These councilmembers are right, that what’s considered a bane in wealthier areas, like this high-density shoebox builings, gigantic, lighted billboards which generate revenue for parks, etc. are a boon in their areas. Problem is, now they’re forcing their “vision” into the most settled and affluent neighborhoods, and people are responding. It’s one of the scandals of our times that LAUSD has been allowed to function as incompetently as it has for so long, but now the very people funding the city feel under direct attack.

    No doubt there’s a major socio-economic and cultural battle in this city, where even placid libs are stirred up, even Bill Rosendahl. Meanwhile, the black community knows they’re being targeted by gangs like MS13 and 18th St.

    Trying to hide the consequences of illegal immigration seems an attempt to keep the lid on the genie, but like the article in CityBeat (hardly a conservative bastion) notes, this just makes the people think that Bratton and the politicians are either covering up, or just plain stupid. We all know Bratton’s not stupid.

  • I have a bad feeling about the future of any urban “megalopolis” where “the good old days” were chronicled by Nathaniel West, Raymond Chandler and Charles Bukowski.

  • Apropos of nothing other than this discussion being deadly depressing and the fact that I happened to invoke Charles Bukowski in a fit of NorCal snark, I’d like to make a “music” (kindasorta) recommendation to afficionados of this blog – check out Tom Russell’s “Hotwalker” CD. It’s got little or nothing to do with the issues here, but it’s a real treat for the mind and the soul, with lots of southern Cal atmospherics and cultural history. A “must listen.” Warning – most of it’s not songs but prosy ruminations, “found sound” and related weirdness.

  • Reg did you know Bukowski’s house was now a landmark? Wish we had those blue circle plaques like London.

    Speak for yourself pal but I’m with Robert Towne. I’d love to spend a day in LA 1946 (year of my birth) and cruise the “Strip” and see the Players, The Troc, Ciros etc. Maybe hang out at the Formosa across from the Paramount Gate (waitng for a glimpse of Chandler or Wilder – hell I’d settle for “Joe Gillis!”) “Chandlertown” indeed!

  • I’d love to spend a day in any of our great cities circa 1946. I understand the pitfalls of nostalgia – especially in the context of our “several Americas” – but, apropos the locus of this blog, somehow even the black LA of Central Avenue and (fellow Missouri native) Chester Himes seems less bleak than what replaced it.

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