California Gov. Gavin Newsom refused to parole Sirhan Sirhan the man convicted of gunning down Robert F. Kennedy in Los Angeles, a brazen assassination of a presidential candidate that scarred the nation and altered the course of American politics during the turbulent 1960s, reported the Los Angeles Times.
A two-person state parole panel recommended in August that Sirhan Sirhan be paroled, influenced in part by two of Kennedy’s children, who have advocated for his release. Sirhan has been imprisoned for more than half a century since his conviction in Kennedy’s shooting death at the Ambassador Hotel the day after the senator won California’s 1968 Democratic presidential primary.
“Mr. Sirhan’s assassination of Senator Kennedy is among the most notorious crimes in American history,” Newsom said in a statement released Thursday afternoon. “After decades in prison, he has failed to address the deficiencies that led him to assassinate Senator Kennedy. Mr. Sirhan lacks the insight that would prevent him from making the same types of dangerous decisions he made in the past.”
Newsom, who as governor has the final say on Sirhan’s release, had appeared resistant from the outset.
The governor has said he has idolized Kennedy throughout his adult life. In recent months, he repeatedly told reporters that one of the few photographs on his desk shows Kennedy with his father, late appellate court Judge William Newsom.
Newsom explained his decision in an opinion article published in the Los Angeles Times. The governor said Sirhan still refuses to accept responsibility for the assassination of Kennedy despite overwhelming evidence of his guilt, and remains a danger to society. He called Sirhan a “potent symbol of political violence.”
“Kennedy’s assassination not only changed the course of this nation and robbed the world of a promising young leader, it also left his 11 children without a father and his wife without a husband,” Newsom wrote. “Kennedy’s family bears his loss every day. Millions of Americans lost a unifier in a time of national turmoil and grief, just nine weeks after the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., and four-and-a-half years after the murder of Kennedy’s brother, President John F. Kennedy.”
On the night Gov. Newsom overwhelmingly defeated the Sept. 14 recall vote, he ended a subdued victory speech by quoting Kennedy: “Tonight I’m humbled, grateful, but resolved in the spirit of my political hero Robert Kennedy ‘to make more gentle the life of this world.’”
Sirhan initially was sentenced to death, but that was commuted to life imprisonment after California briefly outlawed capital punishment in 1972.
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