The Commission denies the parole of Sirhan Sirhan, the assassin of Robert F. Kennedy
SACRAMENTO — A California panel on Wednesday denied parole to Sirhan B. Sirhan, the man convicted of the 1968 assassination of Senator Robert F. Kennedy, in its first review of the case since Gov. Gavin Newsom decided last year that Mr Sirhan, 78, should not be released.
The parole board’s latest decision, which followed a hearing by videoconference from San Diego State Prison, where Mr Sirhan was held, was the second time in three years that Mr Sirhan has been released. was considered. He spent more than half a century behind bars for shooting then-presidential candidate Mr. Kennedy inside the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles at the end of a campaign appearance in 1968. At the time, Mr. Sirhan was 24 years old.
His lawyers argued that he was not a danger to the public and should be released. In 2021, a parole board panel agreed. But after a series of extraordinary events, the governor canceled the panel last year, accusing Mr Sirhan of not yet being rehabilitated.
On Wednesday, after Mr. Sirhan’s 17th parole hearing, the new recommendation was made by a commissioner and deputy commissioner who were not on the review board in 2021. Governor Newsom made no comment.
Mr. Kennedy’s assassination stunned the nation as Americans grappled with deep generational and cultural divisions, the Vietnam War and the civil rights movement. Mr. Kennedy – the brother of a beloved president who a few years earlier had also been assassinated – had just won the Democratic presidential primary in California.
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Mr. Sirhan, a Jerusalem-born Palestinian who had emigrated to the United States from Jordan, shot Mr. Kennedy as he walked through the hotel pantry. He confessed almost immediately. Initially, he was convicted of first degree murder and assault with intent to murder and was sentenced to death, but that sentence was later commuted to life with the possibility of parole.
In a television interview from prison in 1989, Mr Sirhan said he killed Mr Kennedy because he felt betrayed by the senator’s campaign offer to send in military planes to support Israel. Later, however, he said he did not remember the shooting.
In 2021, California law required the parole board, when deciding whether to release an inmate, to consider the inmate’s advanced age and relative youth at the time a crime was committed. After 15 earlier refusals, a panel of commissioners granted him parole that year.
They then noted that Mr. Sirhan had improved by taking courses in prison. Two of Mr Kennedy’s sons had also appealed for clemency.
But most family members insisted that Mr Sirhan remain behind bars and pleaded with Mr Newsom to exercise his power under California law to reject the panel’s recommendation. In January 2022, after more than four months of consideration, the Democratic governor – who has long spoken of Mr. Kennedy as a role model – granted that appeal.
“After decades in prison, he has failed to remedy the shortcomings that led to his assassination of Senator Kennedy,” the governor wrote last year. “Mr Sirhan lacks the insight that would prevent him from making the same kinds of dangerous decisions he has made in the past.
Mr. Sirhan’s attorney, Angela Berry, has since asked a Los Angeles Superior Court judge to overturn Mr. Newsom’s 2022 parole denial. With that motion pending, she said Wednesday that She believed the panel’s latest decision was influenced by the governor’s rejection last year.
“I don’t know how you come to an opposite conclusion,” Ms Berry said, noting that since 2021 Mr Sirhan had undergone even more counseling and added to his long record of good behavior.
“He will be 79 this month,” she said. “He’s trying to do the right thing. He wants to help his younger brother, who is almost blind. They want to live together for their remaining years.
But she said the Kennedy family and their attorneys vigorously argued at Wednesday’s hearing that Mr Sirhan still posed a risk to society and that the panel had “a different dynamic”.
“With the governor’s power to reverse the board,” she said, “I think it’s difficult for anyone who is politically sensitive to be freed.”
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