Parole panel votes to release Sirhan Sirhan from prison after 53-years

(Boris Yaro/Los Angeles Times via AP, File)

Sirhan Sirhan, the man convicted of assassinating Robert Kennedy in 1968 has been recommended for release by a California parole board after serving 53-years in prison. Before Sirhan can be released, the full parole board will have to review it, then their decision will need to be approved by Governor Newsom (or whoever replaces him if the recall election next month is successful).

“Over half a century has passed,” Sirhan told the two parole commissioners, “and that young impulsive kid I was does not exist anymore…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.”…

Kennedy’s family made a late decision to appear at the hearing, with son Douglas H. Kennedy speaking in favor of Sirhan’s parole. “I really do believe any prisoner who is found to be not a threat to themselves or the world should be released,” Douglas Kennedy said, according to the Associated Press…

Another son, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., sent a letter to the parole board on Friday in support of Sirhan after learning that the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department had sent a letter opposing parole “on behalf of the Kennedy family.”

“Please know that that letter was not at the direction of the ‘family,’ and certainly not me,” Robert Kennedy Jr. wrote. “As you may know, I have been a strong advocate for the release of Mr. Sirhan B. Sirhan since I learned of evidence that was not presented to the court during his trial.”

In keeping with DA George Gascon’s new policy, no prosecutor’s representative was present at the parole hearing.

Like most people, I was aware of the conspiracy theories surrounding the death of President John Kennedy in Dallas. I was not aware that a similar theory had revolved around the shooting of Robert Kennedy. One of Kennedy’s sons, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., is now apparently a believer in that theory. The Post wrote a story about that back in 2018:

Though Sirhan admitted at his trial in 1969 that he shot Kennedy, he claimed from the start that he had no memory of doing so. And midway through Sirhan’s trial, prosecutors provided his lawyers with an autopsy report that launched five decades of controversy: Kennedy was shot at point-blank range from behind, including a fatal shot behind his ear. But Sirhan, a 24-year-old Palestinian immigrant, was standing in front of him.

Was there a second gunman? The debate rages to this day…

Sirhan was captured immediately; he had a .22-caliber revolver in his hand. Karl Uecker, an Ambassador Hotel maitre d’ who was escorting Kennedy through the pantry, testified that he grabbed Sirhan’s wrist and pinned it down after two shots and that Sirhan continued to fire wildly while being held down, never getting close to Kennedy. An Ambassador waiter and a Kennedy aide also said they tackled Sirhan after two or three shots.

Several other witnesses also said he was not close enough to place the gun against Kennedy’s back, where famed Los Angeles coroner Thomas Noguchi found powder burns on the senator’s jacket and on his hair, indicating shots fired at close contact. These witnesses provided more proof for those who insist a second gunman was involved.

Most of this is being driven by an investigation by a friend of Kennedy who was there that night. Paul Schrade was standing behind Kennedy and was shot in the head by Sirhan but maintains that Sirhan was never in a position to fire the shots that killed Kennedy. But the Post points out there is plenty of evidence to suggest Sirhan is guilty:

He confessed to the killing at trial, although he claims this was done on his attorney’s instruction. He took hours of target practice with his pistol earlier in the day, and he took the gun into the Ambassador Hotel that night. He had been seen at a Kennedy speech at the Ambassador two days earlier. He had a newspaper clipping critical of Kennedy in his pocket and had written “RFK must die” in notebooks at home, although he said he didn’t remember doing that. And he waited in the pantry for about 30 minutes, according to witnesses who said he asked if Kennedy would be coming through there.

Here’s a local ABC Los Angeles affiliate report from 2018 about what happened that night in 1968: