More than 50 years after he carried out one of the most infamous political assassinations in American history, the man who gunned down Robert F. Kennedy was recommended for parole in California, reported the Los Angeles Times.
Sirhan Sirhan — who was 24 when he shot and killed the senator at a Los Angeles hotel in 1968 — was deemed suitable for release by a two-person parole panel, the first step toward making him a free man. The panel reached its decision, in part, after two of Kennedy’s children expressed support for Sirhan’s release.
Sirhan, a Palestinian immigrant who had written a manifesto calling for Kennedy’s death, had said he was drunk and doesn’t remember opening fire at the since-demolished Ambassador Hotel on Wilshire Boulevard.
Kennedy was considered a leading candidate for president and had just won primaries in South Dakota and California at the time of his death. He was murdered nearly five years after his brother, President John F. Kennedy, was shot and killed in Dallas.
Sirhan, now 77, admitted to the killing in 1969 and has been in prison for 53 years. He originally faced the death penalty but his sentence was commuted to life after the state briefly outlawed capital punishment in the 1970s.
Don't forget Sirhan's novel "Manchurian Candidate" defense he invented about a decade ago. It didn't work, but it appears the parole board, at least initially, has fallen for see something redeeming in him.
The two-person panel Sirhan appeared before granted parole, but the decision is not final. Parole staff still have 90 days to review the matter. After that, Gov. Gavin Newsom — or whoever might replace him following next month’s recall election — could still decide to block Sirhan’s release.
Sirhan expressed deep remorse for the slaying, and said he had given up alcohol and recommitted his life to peace during the decades he has spent housed in a San Diego prison.
“Sen. Kennedy was the hope of the world and I injured, and I harmed all of them and it pains me to experience that, the knowledge for such a horrible deed, if I did in fact do that,” he said. “I’m still responsible for being there and probably causing this whole incident, through my own gun or other guns.”
Two of Kennedy’s children submitted letters on Sirhan’s behalf. Robert F. Kennedy Jr. — who has previously expressed doubt about Sirhan’s guilt and echoed others’ claims that a second gunman actually killed the senator — said he believed his father might extend mercy to Sirhan.
“While nobody can speak definitively on behalf of my father, I firmly believe that based on his own consuming commitment to fairness and justice, that he would strongly encourage this board to release Mr. Sirhan because of Sirhan’s impressive record of rehabilitation,” Kennedy Jr. wrote in a letter submitted in advance of the hearing.
In an interview with The Times, Kennedy Jr. said he was “very happy” Sirhan had been recommended for release and reiterated concerns that the wrong man was convicted.
Kennedy, who was a teen at the time of the murder, pointed to an autopsy report indicating the senator had been shot from behind when Sirhan had been standing in front of Kennedy. Some have argued that this would have made it impossible for Kennedy to have been shot in the back by Sirhan, while others have said that Kennedy turned after the first shot.
“I’m happy that the justice system showed some humanity,” said Kennedy Jr., who has sometimes garnered criticism for indulging in conspiracy theories surrounding both his father’s killing and the use of vaccines. “I think that my father, who was the top administrator of justice in this country as attorney general and he fought to assure the justice system was humane. … He would be very happy with this result.”
Paul Schrade, a former Kennedy aide who was one of several bystanders wounded in the shooting, also said Friday that he believed Sirhan was innocent.
“I sympathize very clearly about the way that Sirhan’s been treated,” said Schrade, 96, from his home in Los Angeles. “This was his 16th parole board hearing, when the guy is not guilty.”
Schrade said that he hopes the granting of parole will push police to reopen their investigation of Kennedy’s death.
Douglas Kennedy also said that while he’d lived in fear of Sirhan for years, he saw him now as “worthy of compassion and love.”
“I really do believe any prisoner who is found to be not a threat to themselves or the world should be released,” Douglas Kennedy wrote. “I believe that applies to everyone, every human being, including Mr. Sirhan.”
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