On Friday, the California Board of Parole approved the parole of 77-year-old Sirhan Sirhan, who has served time in prison for 53 years for the 1968 murder of New York Senator Robert Kennedy.
On June 5 1968, Sirhan, then a 24-year-old Palestinian refugee, shot and killed New York Senator Robert F. Kennedy in the kitchen of the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles as Kennedy was being let out following his victory in the California Presidential Democratic Primary. Before being subdued, an additional 5 people were hit by gunfire but survived. Convicted of murder in 1969, Sirhan had been initially sentenced to death before it being lowered to life in prison in 1972 following the People v. Anderson decision that invalidated the death penalty.
Since being incarcerated, Sirhan has gone through 15 parole board hearings in the past several decades. In recent years, support for Sirhan’s parole has grown as two of RFK’s children, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and Douglas Kennedy, approve of his release, with Kennedy Jr. even recently stating that he thinks Sirhan is innocent and that a second gunman was involved.
This all led to the parole hearing on Friday in San Diego. Despite many letters from law enforcement, the public, and other members of the Kennedy family urging the board not to parole Sirhan, Parole Board Commissioner Robert Barton said the Los Angeles District Attorney, George Gascon, gave no opposition to the parole.
This, the support of Kennedy’s sons, Sirhan’s advanced age, Sirhan being considered a youth offender due to being 24-years-old, his troubled childhood, and the panels belief that he would not offend again all pushed them to their granting of parole on Sirhan’s 16th attempt.
Recall election complicates parole decision by Governor
Kennedy’s sons immediately praised the decision on Friday.
“I’m overwhelmed just by being able to view Mr. Sirhan face to face,” said Douglas Kennedy on Friday. “I think 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.”
However, many law enforcement groups disagreed with the Parole Board’s decision.
“He shot and killed a sitting Senator, wounded 5 other people, and was found guilty in a court of law,” exclaimed Louis Channing, a former Los Angeles police officer who began his career on the force in 1968, to the Globe on Friday. “I was two months in and was on patrol that night when word came in. You cannot forgive someone who did something so brazen. It’s murder. Pure and simple. An assassination. And now he might be walking out a free man. Bobby Kennedy meant a lot to many people. And now this is happening. It’s a sick joke.”
While the parole board did grant parole, Sirhan has not yet been approved for release. The Governor of California needs to sign off on all paroles. And with a recall election less than 3 weeks away, Governor Gavin Newsom will likely not make a decision until after the election if successful.
“He’d lose a lot of votes by doing this,” said former lobbyist Harry Schultz in a Globe interview. “He can’t risk that right now. Plus, Newsom has denied a lot of paroles in the past, including to Manson family members. It’s not a sure thing he would let Sirhan out. And if a Republican wins, well, Sirhan is definitely not getting out.”
If successful, Sirhan will likely be deported to Jordan due to him not being a citizen of the United States.
A decision by the Governor on the parole will likely be given within a few months.
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