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Jack Scott, Friend to SLA, Dies

Radicals: The death of the writer and sports guru came two days after a judge denied Sara Jane Olson's request to videotape his testimony for her trial.

February 08, 2000|ANN W. O'NEILL | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Jack Scott--the radical author and sports guru who in 1974 helped kidnapped heiress Patty Hearst and other Symbionese Liberation Army members elude one of the largest police searches in history--died Sunday of cancer in Eugene, Ore. He was 57.

Scott's death came just two days after a Los Angeles Superior Court judge turned down a request by lawyers for SLA radical-turned- housewife Sara Jane Olson to videotape his testimony for her upcoming trial. Olson, 52, is accused of plotting to kill police officers by helping plant nail-packed pipe bombs under parked patrol cars in August 1975. The bombs did not explode, and Olson remained a fugitive for nearly 24 years.

Olson's defense had sought to preserve Scott's testimony because attorneys believed the dying man could contradict Hearst on key points of the story she has told about her 19 months with the SLA--first as a kidnap victim, then as a gun-toting revolutionary known as "Tania."

Prosecutors had opposed traveling out of state to take Scott's testimony and argued that the court had no authority to order it. In response, defense attorney Susan Jordan bitterly complained, "This is a smoke screen. They want to let this witness die."

Scott died late Sunday at the home of his wife, Micki, friends said. The couple, who spent decades together, then split up for a time in the mid-1990s, were recently married. Scott is survived by a son, Jonah, 22, and daughters Lydia, 19, and Emma, 15.

"It's very sad for him and his family," said Stuart Hanlon, a former Olson attorney. "He wanted his truth to come out, and it's sad for him that it won't."

Former SLA leader William Harris credits Scott with saving his life during the intense manhunt. He said he last spoke with Scott on Friday. "Jack knew he was dying," Harris said. "He wasn't afraid of it."

Scott also was known for his advocacy for black athletes; During his tenure as Oberlin College's athletic director in the early 1970s, he hired as his track coach Tommie Smith, one of the medalists who'd raised his fist in a black power salute at the 1968 Olympic Games.

He wrote several books, including the radical sports tome "The Athletic Revolution." In recent years, Scott had devoted his energy to drug-free sports medicine and physical therapy, treating top athletes such as sprinters Carl Lewis and Ben Johnson.

Former basketball star Bill Walton, now an announcer for the Los Angeles Clippers, said his former housemate was ahead of his time. "Jack was in the forefront of making possible the level of opportunity, success and achievement that people have in the world of sports today," Walton told Associated Press.

During her trial in 1976 for participating in an SLA bank robbery, Hearst claimed she'd been emotionally, physically and sexually abused by the SLA. She claimed to have been brainwashed. She repeated her story in interviews with the FBI and in her 1982 book "Every Secret Thing."

In statements to the FBI and Olson's defense attorneys last October, Scott disputed Hearst on a number of points, portraying her as a willing SLA guerrilla who fell in love with one of her captors and did not wish to return home.

He also said Hearst was the most zealous of the SLA members, and kept a daily "death list" of everyone who spoke out against the group. The list purportedly included the names of activist actress Jane Fonda and San Francisco FBI chief Charles Bates.

Scott talked at length with The Times in early December at his home in north Berkeley. He said he'd told the authorities, "If you're building your whole case on Patty Hearst, you're in big trouble."

Scott said he first met Olson, then known as Kathleen Soliah, in the early 1970s.. Scott left Berkeley in 1972 to become athletic director at Oberlin College in Ohio, then returned in 1974. He contemplated writing a book about the SLA and the Hearst kidnapping, which was big news.

"It became clear to me that the people who did this were my generation gone crazy," he said during the December interview. That June, Scott put the word out in Berkeley that he'd like to talk to the SLA, telling Olson when he ran into her at a natural foods store. Within just a few days, he said, she was driving him blindfolded to a secret meeting.

When he removed the blindfold, Scott recalled, "Seated before me in rather dramatic fashion in three chairs--boom, boom, boom--is Tania, Yolanda, and General Teko." In other words, Hearst, and SLA leaders Emily and William Harris.

"They were scared and in shock. Now I was scared. But I was at least happy they had not been cornered like rats and exterminated."

Six other members of their group had not been so lucky. Days earlier, on May 17, 1974, they were killed when their Los Angeles safe house burned to the foundation during an armed standoff with police.

He said Olson's motivation for helping the fugitives was her horror at the death of her best friend, Angela Atwood, in the shootout and fire.

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