A California parole board on Friday granted the release of Robert F. Kennedy’s assassin, Sirhan Sirhan, on his 16th attempt.
According to The Los Angeles Times, “The move sparks a 90-day review period by parole staff.” The outlet reported, “After that, Gov. Gavin Newsom – or whoever might replace him in next month’s recall election – could still decide to block Sirhan’s release.”
Sirhan reportedly smiled and gave two thumbs up after the decision was announced.
Sirhan, 77, has been incarcerated for 53 years. Kennedy was vying for the Democratic presidential nomination when he was shot by Sirhan at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles on June 5, 1968. Kennedy died the next day. The following year, Sirhan admitted to committing the murder. Five others were wounded during the incident.
Kennedy was a 42-year-old U.S. senator from New York, and brother to former President John F. Kennedy, who had been assassinated in 1963.
Sirhan was a 24-year-old Palestinian immigrant at the time of the killing. He said he was displeased with Kennedy’s support of Israel, but did not remember committing the crime. After being convicted of first-degree murder in 1969, Sirhan was sentenced to death. However, the punishment was later commuted to life in prison with the possibility for parole in 1972.
Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón’s office did not oppose Sirhan’s release, standing by a new policy prohibiting prosecutors from attending parole hearings.
“The role of a prosecutor and their access to information ends at sentencing,” a spokesman for Gascón said in a statement. “The parole board’s sole purpose is to objectively determine whether someone is suitable for release. If someone is the same person that committed an atrocious crime, that person will correctly not be found suitable for release.”
Still, two of Kennedy’s sons said they supported parole for Sirhan.
According to the Associated Press, Douglas Kennedy, who was a toddler when his father was killed, “told a two-person board panel that he was moved to tears by Sirhan’s remorse and that the 77-year-old should be released if he’s not a threat to others.”
“I’m overwhelmed just be being able to view Mr. Sirhan face to face,” he reportedly said. “I’ve lived my life both in fear of him and his name in one way or another. And I’m grateful today to see him as a human being worthy of compassion and love.”
Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who was 14 when his father died, submitted a letter to the parole board advocating for Sirhan’s release.
“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,” the letter said.
In 2018, Kennedy Jr. said he visited Sirhan in prison and believed a second gunman could have killed his father.
More details from the AP:
The Los Angeles Police Department, relatives of some of the victims and members of the public submitted letters opposing Sirhan’s release, Parole Board Commissioner Robert Barton said at the start of Friday’s proceeding, held virtually with Sirhan appearing on camera from a San Diego County prison.
“We don’t have a DA here, but I have to consider all sides,” Barton said, noting it would consider arguments made in the past by prosecutors opposing his release, depending on their relevance.
Sirhan’s lawyer, Angela Berry, said the board should base its decision on who Sirhan is today and not what he did more than 50 years ago. She said he is not a threat to the public.
“I would never put myself in jeopardy again,” Sirhan told the panel on Friday. “You have my pledge. I will always look to safety and peace and non-violence.”