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August 27, 2021

RFK killer. Sirhan Sirhan, recommended for parole after decades of denials

As the saying goes, if at first you do not succeed, try, try again.  As detailed in this Los Angeles Times article, after trying again and again to get a positive parole recommendation, the assassin of Robert Kennedy, Sirhan Sirhan, today finally succeeded:

Sirhan Sirhan, the man convicted of assassinating Robert F. Kennedy at a Los Angeles hotel more than 50 years ago, was recommended for release by a California parole board Friday, the first step toward making him a free man.

The two-person panel Sirhan appeared before Friday 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, then a 24-year-old Palestinian immigrant who had written a manifesto calling for Kennedy’s death, shot the senator at the since-demolished Ambassador Hotel on Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles in 1968. Kennedy was considered a leading candidate for president and had just won primaries in South Dakota and California at the time of his assassination.  Sirhan admitted to the killing in 1969 and has been in prison for 53 years.

The board granted his release Friday, in part, after receiving letters of support from two members of the slain senator’s family. Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who has previously expressed doubt about Sirhan’s guilt, said he believed his father might extend mercy to his own killer.  “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 Friday’s hearing.

Douglas Kennedy 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.”

The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department submitted a letter opposing Sirhan’s release, on behalf of the Kennedy family.

Erin Mellon, a spokeswoman for Newsom, said the governor will review Sirhan’s case if it is presented to him....

Angela Berry, Sirhan’s attorney, says the 77-year-old has not been accused of a serious violation of prison rules since 1972 and that prison officials have deemed him a low risk for violence. Sirhan first became eligible for parole in 1972. Between 1983 and 2006, he was granted parole hearings every one to two years, but was always denied. Beginning in 2006, those hearings were held just twice a decade. He was last denied release in 2016.

The recommendation for Sirhan’s release also came without opposition from L.A. County prosecutors, who are barred from fighting release at parole hearings under a policy enacted by Dist. Atty. George Gascón. While Gascón’s policy had been in effect for nearly nine months, it attracted new scrutiny this week because of Sirhan’s case. Gascón has said it should be up to the parole board to determine an inmate’s suitability for release, rather than prosecutors who are simply relitigating the facts of old cases, sometimes decades later....

Critics of Gascón have said the parole policy is indicative of a broader abandonment of victims under his administration. Some victims have complained to The Times that they felt helpless without an advocate present when they went to oppose the release of a loved one’s killer earlier this year. L.A. County Sheriff Alex Villanueva, a staunch opponent of Gascón, has also said he would send staff to aid victims at parole hearings if Gascón wouldn’t send prosecutors, but he has yet to explain how often he’s done so or what impact, if any, the move has had in such cases....

While critics of Gascón have claimed the parole policy will end with a flood of violent criminals returning to the streets, data suggest otherwise. Records show the state parole board only granted release in about 19% of all cases it heard from 2018 to 2020, and that does not factor in cases where Newsom later blocked an inmate’s release.

It will be interesting to see if Gov. Newsom says anything publicly about this case before the recall election in a few weeks at a time when his rivals are accusing him of being "soft on crime."

August 27, 2021 at 08:26 PM | Permalink


As I understand it, the governor doesn't have to make a decision for a while. So, it would be dubious of him to make much of comment about it, though it is doubtful it would affect the election much.

Every little bit counts though. So, best to avoid the question.

Posted by: Joe | Aug 27, 2021 9:35:21 PM

There are various Kennedy family members against the decision.

The fact is in these cases that family members will often disagree. I recall one death penalty case where two elderly brothers disagreed on what was justified. Ultimately, the decision should rest elsewhere.

I think the prosecutor's policy is reasonable. The rejoinder about concern for the family/victims really doesn't refute it. I don't think the prosecutor's office would be the best proxy.

I would like more information on how the two members make a decision. Do various advocates have a means to submit opinions or other information. Also, ultimately, the possibility of the governor to veto provides another means for a voice of all to be involved.

Posted by: Joe | Aug 28, 2021 12:08:34 PM

This won't hurt Newsom's chances if re-election. RKF was assassinated in 1968 and a large bulk of the electorate weren't alive when it happened and are unaware of the historic ramifications of Kennedy's assassination. Besides, crime has dropped in California and Newsom's team should publicize the dropping crime stats as proof that criminal justice reform is effective.

Posted by: Anon | Aug 28, 2021 1:49:22 PM

Sirhan deserves his freedom. No way he killed Bobby Kennedy. The senator was shot in the back of his head, while Sirhan was clearly positioned in front of the senator in that cramped kitchen walkway.
good evidence exists that Sirhan was under some kind of hypnosis that night...
For a convincing analysis, see the recent book A Lie too Big to Fail by Lisa Pease.
I am a veteran journalist and longtime student of the Kennedy assassinations.

Posted by: Russ Tarby | Aug 29, 2021 5:47:10 PM

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