Children of SLA victim reflect on Kilgore

Children of SLA victim reflect on Kilgore

A news-gazette.com reader asks Tom's Mailbag: "We know that there are 300-plus folks who are ready to forgive and forget James Kilgore's past activities. Do we know whether or not the family of the second-degree murder victim is also forgiving and forgetting the loss of their family member?"

In the four decades since Myrna Opsahl was shot to death in a botched bank robbery by members of the Symbionese Liberation Army, her children have mostly stayed out of the headlines. But this week, both responded to The News-Gazette's request to address the incident, the topic of forgiveness and their views about whether the UI faculty ought to include James Kilgore, who was not the gunman but was later convicted for his role in the robbery.

Following are excerpts of their responses.

JON OPSAHL

The former medical doctor now living in Riverside, Calif., said in an e-mail exchange that he is willing to give Kilgore a second chance.

"Justice delayed is justice denied, especially in my mother's murder case. I fully understand the desire and rationale to sometimes make certain individuals pay for their heinous crimes a lot more than they were required to pay by law — even to the point of 'making them pay' for the rest of their lives.

"However, the fact that we have limited sentences for convicted murderers is a testament to the universal belief that a person has the capacity to change from their former self by 1) accepting responsibility for their past behavior, 2) learning from their mistake, and 3) paying their debt to society as determined in a court of law — even as disagreeable as that determination may be.

"Although I do not recall ever hearing a sincere apology from any of the former SLA members, I do still believe in the power of renewal, even as humanly deficient as it always proves to be.

"For this reason, I trust James Kilgore has earned the opportunity for a second chance, and I respectfully request the good people of Illinois to treat Mr. Kilgore according to his current behaviors. Hopefully, he, more than most, will be able to demonstrate tolerance, forgiveness, fairness, and compassion since he has had the privilege to experience such first hand.

"Let's see how this potential prodigal son expresses his gratitude. Let him love and provide for his family, and let him serve his community. How else can we honor our own institutions meant for rehabilitation if we block convicts from any secondary opportunity for contributing to society?"

SONJA OPSAHL BROWNLE

A pediatrician practicing in Elko, Nev., Dr. Opsahl Brownle said in a telephone interview she is conflicted about whether Kilgore should be forgiven.

"They ran away. They hid. They got a new identity. They've justified their crimes as political. It's kind of concerning that someone would still go around and think that what they did was just a political thing, and that they didn't understand the devastation they did to others. It was not a state of war. It was stupidity to even call it terrorism in my mind. The SLA was so misguided.

"They did awful things, all for what they thought was some idealistic goal. But I don't know what they accomplished.

"It seems to me that they haven't really done much to try to express regret for their actions."

"... They were caught, they were tried, they served some time. I think that's all important to know. And I would think that people would view what they did as really dumb, beyond dumb. And so in that sense when they were caught and tried, I wasn't really interested in trying to pursue justice for them. My kids were young. I didn't want to devote that much time into this kind of anger and animosity and relive all of that.

"So as far as that goes, forgiveness, sure. As far as letting it go, it's behind me. But how do you judge if someone should be teaching at a university? And what are their political beliefs? You need that kind of freedom here in America, right? But someone who is capable of ... murder and all those other things that they did way back when, who are we to judge if they're really over that and not capable of encouraging others to pursue the same avenues?"

At 2 p.m. today, we'll have a full Tom's Mailbag, with more from Tom Kacich's exclusive interviews with Myrna Opsahl's family, as well as some more information about the potential use of Spalding Park, Franklin Middle School and Judah Christian School as a site for a new high school.

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