California Gov. Gavin Newsom rejected releasing Robert F. Kennedy assassin Sirhan Sirhan from prison on Thursday, more than a half-century after the 1968 slaying left a deep wound during one of America’s darkest times.
Newsom, who has cited RFK as his ‘political hero’ and embraced the historical significance of his decision, rejected a recommendation from a two-person panel of parole commissioners, saying Sirhan, now 77, poses an unreasonable threat to public safety.
‘Mr. Sirhan´s assassination of Senator Kennedy is among the most notorious crimes in American history,’ Newsom wrote in his decision.
‘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.’
Sirhan Sirhan, 77, is incarcerated at the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, in San Diego, California, for the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy
Sirhan was arrested and found guilty of assassinating New York Sen. Robert F. Kennedy in 1968. The assassin maintains that he does not remember the event of the deadly night
California Gov. Gavin Newsom, who had cited RFK has a personal hero, denied Sirhan’s chances at parole, calling the convicted killer a threat to public safety
Newsom said factors in his decision including Sirhan’s refusal to accept responsibility for his crime, his lack of insight and the accountability required to support his safe release, his failure to disclaim violence committed in his name, and his failure to mitigate his risk factors.
Kennedy, the U.S. senator from New York, was shot moments after he claimed victory in California´s pivotal Democratic presidential primary. Five others were wounded during the assassination at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles.
The slaying took place five years after his brother, President John F. Kennedy, was assassinated.
Sirhan will be scheduled for a new parole hearing no later than February 2023.
Sirhan will ask a judge to overturn Newsom´s denial, said his defense attorney, Angela Berry.
‘We fully expect that judicial review of the governor´s decision will show that the governor got it wrong,’ she said.
State law holds that inmates are supposed to be paroled unless they pose a current unreasonable public safety risk, she said, adding that ‘not an iota of evidence exists to suggest Mr. Sirhan is still a danger to society.’
She said the parole process has become politicized and Newsom ‘chose to overrule his own experts [on the parole board], ignoring the law.’
Sirhan stepped towards RFK with a rolled up campaign poster, hiding his .22 revolver shooting him in the head from only a foot away
Sen. Robert Kennedy and Ambassador Hotel employee Juan Romero pictured moments after RFK was shot by Sirhan Sirhan on June 5, 1968
RFK was taken to Good Samaritan Hospital and pronounced dead a day later, on June 6, 1968
Sirhan was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to death in 1969, before the state did away with the death penalty
Parole commissioners found Sirhan suitable for release ‘because of his impressive extensive record of rehabilitation over the last half-century,’ she said. ‘Since the mid-1980´s Mr. Sirhan has consistently been found by prison psychologists and psychiatrists to not pose an unreasonable risk of danger to the public.’
During his parole hearing, the white-haired Sirhan called Kennedy ‘the hope of the world.’ But he stopped short of taking full responsibility for a shooting he said he doesn´t recall because he was drunk.
‘It pains me … the knowledge for such a horrible deed, if I did in fact do that,’ Sirhan said.
The parole panel´s recommendation in August to release Sirhan divided the iconic Kennedy family.
Most notably, six of RFK’s nine surviving children signed a letter publicly pleading with the Parole Board and Newsom not to grant Sirhan’s parole.
‘As children of Robert F. Kennedy, we are devastated that the man who murdered our father has been recommended for parole’ the letter began.
‘We adamantly oppose the parole and release of Sirhan Sirhan and are shocked by a ruling that we believe ignores the standards for parole of a confessed, first-degree murderer in the state of California.’ The siblings directly called on Newsom to reject the parole and insisted that they ‘intend to challenge’ Sirhan’s release ‘every step of the way.’
It was signed by Joseph P. Kennedy II, Courtney Kennedy Hill, Kerry Kennedy, Christopher G. Kennedy, Maxwell T. Kennedy and Rory Kennedy who write that the decision has ‘inflicted enormous additional pain.’
Ethel Kennedy, widow of Robert Kennedy who was assassinated during his 1968 presidential campaign, wrote a letter to the parole board pleading with them to not release Sirhan Sirhan
He should NOT be paroled’: RFK’s widow Ethel Kennedy, 93, joins 6 of her nine surviving kids opposing Sirhan Sirhan’s parole in opposition to sons
RFK’s youngest daughter, Rory, also published an opinion piece in The New York Times brazenly titled ‘The Man Who Murdered My Father Doesn’t Deserve Parole.’
Robert Kennedy’s widow, Ethel Kennedy, 93, released an official statement last week insisting that her husband’s killer should not be paroled.
Ethel released an official statement which read: ‘Bobby believed we should work to ‘tame the savageness of man and make gentle the life of the world.’
‘He wanted to end the war in Vietnam and bring people together to build a better, stronger country. More than anything, he wanted to be a good father and loving husband.
‘Our family and our country suffered an unspeakable loss due to the inhumanity of one man. We believe in the gentleness that spared his life, but in taming his act of violence, he should not have the opportunity to terrorize again.’
At the bottom of the printed statement she signed, ‘He should not be paroled,’ and her name.
FOR: Robert F. Kennedy Jr. (left) and Douglas Kennedy (right) have supported Sirhan’s recommendation for parole
Ethel described her husband’s death as ‘an unspeakable loss to the inhumanity of one man’ (Pictured Robert (left) and Ethel Kennedy (right) on their wedding day in Greenwich, Connecticut on June 17, 1950)
But two of RFK’s children, Douglas Kennedy, 54, and Robert F. Kennedy Jr., 67, have supported Sirhan’s parole.
Douglas addressed the two-person panel that recommended that parole be granted during a virtual hearing, according to The Associated Press.
‘I’m overwhelmed just by being able to view Mr. Sirhan face to face,’ he said moved to tears. ‘I’ve lived my life both in fear of him and his name in one way or another. And I am grateful today to see him as a human being worthy of compassion and love.’
RFK Jr. has spoken in favor of Sirhan’s release, and wrote in a letter that he met with his father’s killer in prison who ‘asked for forgiveness,’ the AP reported.
He has previously stated that he does not believe Sirhan killed his father.
Sirhan will be scheduled for a new parole hearing no later than February 2023. Sirhan will ask a judge to overturn Newsom´s denial, said his defense attorney, Angela Berry
The panel´s decision was based in part on several new California laws since he was denied parole in 2016 – the 15th time he´d lost his bid for release.
Commissioners were required to consider that Sirhan committed his crime at a young age, when he was 24; that he now is elderly; and that the Christian Palestinian who immigrated from Jordan had suffered childhood trauma from the conflict in the Middle East.
In addition, Los Angeles County prosecutors didn´t object to his parole, following District Attorney George Gascón´s policy that prosecutors should not be involved in deciding whether prisoners are ready for release.
The decision had a personal element for Newsom, a fellow Democrat, who displays RFK photos in his official and home offices. One of them is of Kennedy with Newsom´s late father.
Newsom has previously reflected on the gravity of having Sirhan´s fate in his hands, saying it was an emotional issue that echoed back to the turbulent ´60s and reopened memories many want to forget.
Sirhan originally was sentenced to death, but that sentence was commuted to life when the California Supreme Court briefly outlawed capital punishment in 1972.
He now has a heart condition and has survived prostate cancer, Valley fever and having his throat slashed by another prisoner in 2019, said his attorney, Angela Berry.
Munir Sirhan has said his older brother can live with him, if he is freed and not deported to Jordan. Sirhan Sirhan waived his right to fight deportation.