California Parole Board Votes To Free Robert F. Kennedy’s Killer

The California parole board voted Friday to release the killer of Robert F. Kennedy after two of RFK’s sons went against the wishes of several of his brothers and said they supported his release and prosecutors refused. to argue that it should be kept behind bars. But the governor will ultimately decide if Sirhan Sirhan gets out of prison.

Douglas Kennedy was a child when his father was shot and killed in 1968. He told a two-person board panel that Sirhan’s remorse moved him to tears and that the 77-year-old should be released if he poses no threat. for everyone else.

“I am overwhelmed by just being able to see Mr. Sirhan face to face,” he said. “I have lived my life fearing both him and his name in one way or another. And I am grateful today to see him as a human being worthy of compassion and love. “

Six of Kennedy’s nine surviving sons said they were shocked by the vote and urged Gov. Gavin Newsom to reverse the parole board’s decision and keep Sirhan behind bars.

“He took our father from our family and from the United States,” the six siblings wrote in a statement Friday night. “We cannot believe this man was recommended for release.

The statement was signed by Joseph P. Kennedy II, Courtney Kennedy, Kerry Kennedy, Christopher G. Kennedy, Maxwell T. Kennedy, and Rory Kennedy.

But another brother, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., has spoken in favor of his release in the past and wrote in favor of Sirhan’s parole. He said in the letter that he met him in prison and was moved by Sirhan, “who cried, grabbed my hands and asked for forgiveness.”

“While no one can definitively speak for my father, I strongly believe that based on his own commitment to fairness and justice, I would strongly encourage this board to release Mr. Sirhan due to Sirhan’s impressive rehabilitation record,” said. in a letter presented during the board hearing.

Unsecured release

Sirhan, whose hair is now white, smiled, thanked the board and raised his thumb after the decision to grant parole was announced. It was a huge victory in his 16th parole attempt after turning 53. But it does not ensure their release.

The ruling will be reviewed over the next 120 days by the board’s staff. It will then be sent to the governor, who will have 30 days to decide whether to grant, reverse or modify it. If Sirhan is released, he must live in a transitional home for six months, enroll in an alcohol abuse program, and receive therapy.

Robert F. Kennedy was an American senator from New York and the brother of President John F. Kennedy, who was assassinated in 1963. RFK was seeking the Democratic presidential nomination when he was shot and killed at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles moments after delivering a speech. victory in the fundamental primaries in California. Five others were injured.

Sirhan, who insists he does not remember the shooting and had been drinking alcohol just before, was convicted of first degree murder. He was sentenced to death after his conviction, but that sentence was commuted to life in prison when the California Supreme Court briefly banned capital punishment in 1972.

At his last parole hearing in 2016, commissioners concluded after more than three hours of intense testimony that Sirhan did not show adequate remorse or understand the enormity of his crime.

Take responsibility

On Friday, Sirhan said again that he did not remember the murder, but made several attempts to show that he nonetheless takes responsibility for the damage it caused.

Sen. Kennedy was the hope of the world … and I hurt everyone and it hurts to experience that, the knowledge of such a horrible fact, if I did indeed do that, ”Sirhan said, appearing on camera from a San County jail. Diego in the virtual process, dressed in his blue prison uniform, a paper towel folded like a handkerchief peeking out from his shirt pocket.

Board of Parole Commissioner Robert Barton said Sirhan proved he was a different man not just from 1968 but from 2016.

“We saw the improvement he’s made and all the other mitigating factors, and we didn’t find his lack of total accountability” for the crime as proof that he is currently dangerous to society, Barton said.

Barton said Sirhan had made a concerted effort to follow the 2016 board’s suggestions. That included signing up for more than 20 programs focused on self-help, anger management and other emotions. Barton noted that Sirhan did it even during the coronavirus pandemic.

Due to laws passed in 2018, the board was required this time to take into account the fact that he had suffered childhood trauma from the conflict in the Middle East, committed the crime at a young age, and is now an elderly prisoner.

The board found that despite the scale of the crime, he was unlikely to reoffend and did not pose an unreasonable threat to public safety.

“Despite its atrocity, its impact, not just on families and victims and the nation as a whole and perhaps the world at large, if you were sentenced to life in prison without parole it would be a different matter, but you were sent to life in prison with probation, “Barton said.

Barton said the board’s decision was not influenced by the fact that prosecutors did not participate in or oppose Sirhan’s release under a policy of Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón, a former police officer. who took office last year after running on a reform platform. Gascón, who said he idolized the Kennedys and lamented RFK’s assassination, believes that the role of prosecutors ends with sentencing and that they should not influence decisions to free the prisoners.

“Obviously they were opposed in the past and even if they had opposed today, our decision would be the same,” Barton said.


The Los Angeles Police Department, relatives of some of the victims and members of the public sent letters opposing Sirhan’s release.

The California District Attorneys Association denounced the absence of the prosecution.

“This is one of the most notorious political assassinations in American history and the release of the killer is being considered without the benefit of a representative on behalf of the people of California. That’s a shame, “said El Dorado County District Attorney Vern Pierson, the association’s president.

Sirhan’s attorney, Angela Berry, had urged the board to base its decision on who Sirhan is today and not on what he did more than 50 years ago.

Sirhan said that he had learned to control his anger and was committed to living in peace.

You have my promise. I will always seek security, peace and non-violence, ”he told the panel.

Sirhan, a Christian Palestinian from Jordan, has acknowledged that he was angry at Kennedy for his support of Israel. When asked about how he feels about the Middle East conflict today, Sirhan broke down in tears and was temporarily unable to speak.

“Take a few deep breaths,” said Barton, who noted that the conflict had not gone away and still hit a nerve.

Sirhan said he does not follow what is happening in the region, but thinks about the suffering of the refugees.

“The misery that these people live. It’s painful, ”Sirhan said.

If released, Sirhan could be deported to Jordan, and Barton said he was concerned he could become a “symbol or lightning rod to encourage more violence.”

Sirhan said he was too old to be involved in the Middle East conflict and would walk away from it.

“The same argument can be made or made that I can be a peacemaker and a contributor to a friendly, non-violent way of solving the problem,” said Sirhan, who told the panel that he hoped to live with his blind brother in Pasadena, California.

Paul Schrade, a union leader and RFK aide who was among five people injured in the 1968 shooting, also spoke Friday in favor of Sirhan’s release.


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