California’s governor refused Sirhan Sirhan’s request for release on Thursday, citing the killer’s continued threat to the public and refusal to accept responsibility for a crime that changed American history.
Kennedy, a US senator from New York, was assassinated minutes after winning the crucial Democratic presidential primary in California. During the shooting at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles, five others were injured.
A two-person panel of parole commissioners recommended that Sirhan, 77, be released. Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom, who has named RFK as a political hero, rejected the request. The Kennedy family was split by the panel’s decision in August, with two of RFK’s sons — Douglas Kennedy and Robert F. Kennedy Jr. — supporting his release and their brothers and mother passionately opposing it.
Newsom said the assassination was “among the most heinous crimes in American history” in his conclusion. Aside from causing “immense suffering” to Kennedy’s pregnant wife and ten children, Newsom said the assassination “also brought significant injury to the American people.”
Newsom stated that it “upended the 1968 presidential race, leaving millions across the United States and beyond lamenting the promise of his candidacy.” “Mr. Sirhan assassinated Senator Kennedy at a tumultuous period of political assassinations, just nine weeks after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and four and a half years after the assassination of Senator Kennedy’s brother, President John F. Kennedy.”
Sirhan, he claimed, continues to lack insight, refuses to accept responsibility, and refuses to apologize for acts of violence committed in his name. Newsom noted that this “increases his current risk of instigating future political violence.”
Terrorists kidnapped ten people at a Sudanese embassy in 1973, demanding the release of Sirhan and other detainees and killing three diplomats if their demands were not satisfied, he said.
Sirhan, who has a new parole hearing planned for February 2023, will petition a judge to reject Newsom’s decision, according to defense attorney Angela Berry.
“We are confident that a court review of the governor’s decision will reveal that the governor made a mistake,” she said.
“Not one iota of evidence exists to suggest Mr. Sirhan is still a danger to society,” she said, citing state law that says criminals should not be paroled unless they pose a current excessive public safety risk.
She claimed that the parole process has been politicized, and that Newsom “choose to ignore the law and disregard his own experts (on the parole board).”
Sirhan was declared appropriate for release by parole commissioners “because of his exceptional comprehensive record of rehabilitation over the last half-century,” according to Berry. “Since the mid-1980s, prison psychologists and psychiatrists have continuously determined that Mr. Sirhan does not pose an undue risk of harm to the public.”
Sirhan, who has white hair, referred to Kennedy as the “hope of the world” during his parole hearing. However, he refrained from accepting complete responsibility for a shooting he claims he doesn’t remember because he was inebriated.
Sirhan added, “It pains me… the knowledge of such a heinous thing, if I did, in fact, accomplish that.”
In a statement, Ethel Kennedy and six of his children praised Newsom’s decision, describing RFK as a “visionary and champion of justice” whose life was “cut short by a furious man with a little gun.”
“The political sentiments that fueled this inmate’s crime still simmer now,” they concluded, “and his refusal to admit the truth makes it impossible to infer that he has triumphed over the evil that boiled over 53 years ago.”
The panel’s decision was based in part on various new California regulations that had been enacted since he was denied parole for the 15th time in 2016.
Commissioners were compelled to examine the fact that Sirhan committed his crime when he was 24 years old, that he is now elderly, and that the Christian Palestinian immigrant from Jordan had experienced childhood trauma as a result of the Middle East conflict.
Furthermore, prosecutors in Los Angeles County did not object to his parole, despite District Attorney George Gascón’s doctrine that prosecutors should not be involved in determining whether or not prisoners are suitable for release.
For Newsom, a fellow Democrat who has RFK images in his official and home offices, the choice was personal. One of them shows Kennedy with Newsom’s father, who died in a car accident.