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Parole Board Votes To Release Robert F. Kennedy’s Killer After Prosecutor Doesn’t Object

Sacramento, CA – A two-member California parole board panel is pushing for Sirhan Sirhan, the man convicted of assassinating Robert F. Kennedy, to be released from prison.

Sirhan, now 77, was initially sentenced to death after being convicted of fatally shooting Robert F. Kennedy at the Los Angeles Ambassador Hotel in 1968, Insider reported.

Robert F. Kennedy, a senator, attorney general, and presidential hopeful, was a 42-year-old married father of 11.

Sirhan, a Palestinian immigrant, was 24 at the time of the murder, the Los Angeles Times reported.

He had penned a manifesto calling for the senator’s death, but claimed he was intoxicated the night of the attack and that he has no recollection about opening fire at the hotel.

Sirhan confessed to Robert F. Kennedy’s murder in 1969 and was given the death penalty, but his sentence was commuted to life in the 1970s after California briefly abolished capital punishment, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Sirhan asked for parole 15 times prior to the board’s decision to grant his request on Friday, Insider reported.

During his last parole hearing, which occurred in 2016, the board determined he did not exhibit adequate understanding of the impact of his offense, nor did he exhibit adequate remorse for what he confessed to having done.

He was quick to express his remorse during Friday’s hearing.

“Sen. Kennedy was the hope of the world and I injured, and I harmed all of them and it pains me to experience that, the knowledge for such a horrible deed, if I did in fact do that,” he said, according to the Los Angeles Times. “I’m still responsible for being there and probably causing this whole incident, through my own gun or other guns.”

Due to a policy enacted by Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascon barring prosecutors from arguing against the release of offenders during parole hearings, no one from the prosecutor’s office opposed the convicted killer’s release, the Los Angeles Times reported.

“The role of a prosecutor and their access to information ends at sentencing,” Gascon’s special advisor, Alex Bastian, told the paper. “The parole board, however, has all the pertinent facts and evaluations at their disposal, including how someone has conducted themselves over the last few decades in prison.”

Critics note that Gascon’s policy essentially abandons victims and their families, who are left without an advocate once a conviction is secured, the Los Angeles Times reported.

“Letting a victim or a victim’s family member be at a parole hearing by themselves is just plain cruel,” Los Angeles County Deputy District Attorney Jonathan Hatami told the paper. “Gascón is completely abandoning his job.”

“We all know the parole board doesn’t always get it right,” Hatami added. “It’s not even close.”

Two of Robert F. Kennedy’s nine surviving children actually backed their father’s killer during the parole hearing, Insider reported.

Douglas Kennedy told the board Sirhan’s remorse moved him to tears and that he should be allowed to walk free if he isn’t a threat to anyone.

“I’m overwhelmed just by being able to view Mr. Sirhan face to face,” Douglas Kennedy said. “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.”

“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, according to the Los Angeles Times. “I believe that applies to everyone, every human being, including Mr. Sirhan.”

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. sent the board a letter telling them that Sirhan “wept, clenching my hands, and asked for forgiveness” when he went to visit him in prison in 2017, Insider reported.

“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,” Robert F. Kennedy Jr. wrote to the board, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Robert F. Kennedy aide Paul Schrade, one of the five people who were wounded during the attack, also spoke out in favor of the killer’s release.

“The guy is not guilty,” Schrade told the Los Angeles Times.

He said he hopes the police investigation into Robert F. Kennedy’s murder will be reopened if Sirhan is released onto parole.

The parole board’s ruling will be reviewed over the next four months before it is sent to the governor’s office for approval, Insider reported.

The governor will have a 30-day window to determine whether parole should be granted, reversed, or modified.

Six of Robert F. Kennedy’s nine surviving children submitted a letter begging the governor to keep their father’s killer behind bars in the wake of the board’s decision.

“As children of Robert F. Kennedy, we are devastated that the man who murdered our father has been recommended for parole,” the letter read. “Given today’s unexpected recommendation by the California parole board after 15 previous decisions to deny release, we feel compelled to make our position clear.”

“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,” they wrote.

The family members said the “two-member parole board’s” decision has “inflicted enormous additional pain” on top of the impact his murder already made on those who loved him.

“Sirhan Sirhan committed a crime against our nation and its people,” they wrote. “He took our father from our family and he took him from America.”

They further urged the governor’s office and the parole board to keep Sirhan behind bars.

“We are in disbelief that this man would be recommended for release,” the letter read. “We urge the Parole Board staff, the full Board, and ultimately, Governor [Gavin] Newsom, to reverse this initial recommendation.”

They said they plan to fight the recommendation for Sirhan’s release from here on out.

“We hope that hose who also hold the memory of our father in their hearts will stand with us,” they added.

But Robert F. Kennedy Jr. said he is “very happy” about the board’s decision and said he believes a second shooter was responsible for killing his father, the Los Angeles Times reported.

“I’m happy that the justice system showed some humanity,” he said. “I think that my father, who was the top administrator of justice in this country as attorney general and he fought to assure the justice system was humane…He would be very happy with this result.”

Written by
Holly Matkin

Holly is a former probation and parole officer who is married to a sheriff’s deputy. She is a regular contributor to Signature Montana magazine, and has written feature articles for Distinctly Montana magazine.

View all articles
Written by Holly Matkin

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