Parole Board Urges Release of Sirhan Sirhan, Robert F. Kennedy’s Assassin

Lee Heidhues 8.27.2021

Granting parole to Robert Kennedy’s assassin would be a tough pill to swallow.

Robert Kennedy’s murderer has spent most of his adult life incarcerated. He’s been imprisoned 53 years.

I was 21 and completely devastated when Robert Kennedy was assassinated in June 1968.

At a deep psychological level I never recovered from the shock and trauma of his murder. I had campaigned actively on Robert Kennedy’s behalf as a college student throughout Spring 1968 and knew he would be elected President in November 1968. My life’s path headed in a totally different direction in the aftermath of his assassination.

Robert Kennedy’s murder influenced my political perspective and personal life in ways I did not forsee or realize at the time.

RFK IV 8.27.2021.jpg

Robert Kennedy lay dying – June 5, 1968

Excerpted from The New York Times 8.27.2021

California parole commissioners recommended on Friday that Sirhan B. Sirhan should be freed on parole after spending more than 50 years in prison for assassinating Robert F. Kennedy during his campaign for president.

Shortly after midnight on June 5, 1968, Kennedy gave a speech at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles following his victory in the Democratic primary in California. As Kennedy, a senator from New York, walked through the hotel’s pantry, Mr. Sirhan shot him with a revolver. Five other people around Kennedy were shot as well, but they all survived.

Kennedy died the next day, less than five years after President John F. Kennedy, one of his brothers, had been assassinated.

Robert Kennedy campaigning in California – 1968

The recommendation from the two commissioners does not necessarily mean Mr. Sirhan, 77, will walk free, but it most likely puts his fate in the hands of Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat facing a recall election that will determine his political future. A spokeswoman for Mr. Newsom declined to say whether he would approve the recommendation, only that he would consider the case after it is reviewed by the parole board’s lawyers.

Time – May 1968
Time – RFK Assassination issue

The parole hearing was the 16th time Mr. Sirhan had faced parole board commissioners, but it was the first time no prosecutor showed up to argue for his continued imprisonment. George Gascón, the progressive and divisive Los Angeles County district attorney who was elected last year, has made it a policy for prosecutors not to attend parole hearings, saying the parole board has all the facts it needs to make an informed decision.

At the hearing, which was conducted virtually because of the coronavirus pandemic, Mr. Sirhan said he had little memory of the assassination itself, but he said he “must have” brought the gun to the scene.

“I take responsibility for taking it in and I take responsibility for firing the shots,” he said. Mr. Sirhan, much of his short hair turned white, was seated in front of a computer and was wearing a blue uniform with a paper towel in his chest pocket.

Mr. Sirhan, who is Palestinian and was born in Jerusalem, said in a television interview from prison in 1989 that he had killed Kennedy because he felt betrayed by the senator’s proposal during the campaign to send 50 military planes to Israel.

Top photo – Robert Kennedy speaks to cheering crowd after winning California primary June 4, 1968 at Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles. He was asssassinated a few minutes later.