For 15 years, the murderer of Robert F. Kennedy was denied parole by a California parole board which maintained that Sirhan Sirhan had failed to show adequate remorse or understand the enormity of his crime which rocked the nation and the world in 1968.
But on Friday, the two-person panel said he appeared to be a different man, even since his last hearing in 2016, and granted the 77-year-old prisoner parole. Two of RFK’s sons, going against several wishes of their siblings, said they also supported his release and prosecutors declined to say he should be kept behind bars. But the governor will ultimately decide if he gets out of prison.
The board found that Sirhan was no longer a threat to society, noting that he had enrolled in more than 20 programs, including anger management classes, Tai Chi meetings and Alcoholics Anonymous , even during the coronavirus pandemic.
“We think you’ve grown up,” Parole Board Commissioner Robert Barton said.
“A human being worthy of compassion”
Douglas Kennedy was a toddler when his father was shot in 1968. He told a two-person panel that he was moved to tears by Sirhan’s remorse and that the 77-year-old should be released if he does. is not a threat to others.
“I am overwhelmed just being able to see Mr. Sirhan face to face,” he said. “I have lived my life both in fear of 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. . “
Sirhan, pictured in 2016, has served 53 years in prison. (California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation / Reuters)
Six of Kennedy’s nine surviving children, however, said they were shocked by the vote. They urged Gov. Gavin Newsom, who faces a recall election in California, to overturn the parole board’s decision and keep Sirhan behind bars.
“He took our father from our family and took him from America,” the six siblings wrote in a statement Friday night. “We do not believe this man is recommended for release.
The declaration was signed by Joseph P. Kennedy II, Courtney Kennedy, Kerry Kennedy, Christopher G. Kennedy, Maxwell T. Kennedy and Rory Kennedy.
Release not guaranteed
But another brother, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., has spoken in favor of his release in the past and has written in support of Sirhan’s parole. He says in the letter that he met him in prison and was moved by Sirhan, “who cried, squeezed my hands, and asked for forgiveness.
“While no one can speak definitively for my father, I firmly believe that based on his own commitment to fairness and justice, he would strongly encourage this council to release Mr. Sirhan due to the ‘Sirhan’s impressive rehabilitation record,’ he said. in a letter given to the commission at the hearing.
US Senator Robert F. Kennedy speaks in Atlantic City, NJ, in May 1968, just weeks before his assassination in Los Angeles. (The Associated Press)
Sirhan, whose hair is white, smiled, thanked the board and gave a thumbs-up after the decision to grant parole was announced. It was a major victory in his 16th parole attempt after serving 53 years. But he does not ensure his release.
The decision will be reviewed over the next 120 days by board staff. Then it will be sent to the governor, who will have 30 days to decide whether to grant it, cancel it or modify it. If Sirhan is released, he must live in a halfway house for six months, enroll in an alcoholism program and undergo therapy.
Senator shot down in 1963
Robert F. Kennedy was a United States 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 dead at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles moments away. after delivering a victory speech in the crucial California primary. Five others were injured.
Sirhan, who insists he doesn’t remember the shooting and that he 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 when the California Supreme Court briefly banned capital punishment in 1972.
Some of Kennedy’s children and others called for a re-investigation into the murder, believing there was a second gunman who had run away.
US Senator John F. Kennedy, the future President, left, and his brother, Robert F. Kennedy, a future Senator, are shown in Georgetown, Massachusetts, in 1955. (Three Lions / Hulton Archive / Getty Images)
While on Friday Sirhan again stated that he did not remember the murder, he made several attempts to show nonetheless that he takes responsibility for the harm he caused.
“Senator Kennedy was the hope of the world ….. and I hurt them all and it hurts me to experience this, the knowledge of such a horrible act, if I actually did. said Sirhan, appearing on camera from a San Diego County jail during the virtual proceeding, dressed in his blue prison uniform, a paper towel folded like a handkerchief peeking out of his shirt pocket.
No risk of reoffending
Barton said it was progress.
“We have seen the improvement that you have made and all the other mitigating factors, and we have not found that your failure to take full responsibility” for the crime as evidence of being dangerous to society at the present time. Barton said.
Due to laws passed in 2018, the board was required to take into account this time the fact that he had suffered a trauma as a child due to the conflict in the Middle East, had committed the offense of a young age and is now an elderly prisoner.
The main entrance to the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles is shown on June 28, 1968 (David F. Smith / The Associated Press)
The commission concluded that despite the magnitude of the crime, he was not likely 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 without parole it would be another matter. were sent for life on parole, ”Barton said.