Robert Kennedy’s assassin Sirhan Sirhan granted parole by California board

Robert F. Kennedy’s assassin, Sirhan Sirhan, was granted parole by a California board Friday after spending more than 50 years in prison after two of his sons said they support his release, a decision that still needs to be approved by the governor. 

Sirhan gunned down Kennedy, then a Democratic U.S. Senator from New York and brother of President John F. Kennedy, in 1968 at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles moments after Kennedy delivered a victory speech in the pivotal California primary. Sirhan was convicted of first-degree murder. 

Sirhan, a Christian Palestinian from Jordan, has said he was angry at Kennedy for his support of Israel.

This was his 16th appearance before the parole board.  

“I would never put myself in jeopardy again,” he told the parole board from a San Diego County prison where he appeared for the virtual proceeding. “You have my pledge. I will always look to safety and peace and non-violence.”

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In this image provided by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, Sirhan Sirhan arrives for a parole hearing on Friday in San Diego. (California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation via AP)

In this image provided by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, Sirhan Sirhan arrives for a parole hearing on Friday in San Diego. (California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation via AP)

The decision by the two-member panel doesn’t assure his release. It will next go up for a board review and requires approval from California Gov. Gavin Newsom.

Kennedy was shot moments after his primary victory speech as he was walking through the hotel kitchen where he paused to greet employees.

“I remember extending my hand as far as I could, and then I remember him shaking my hand,” Juan Romero, the busboy who was photographed holding a bleeding Kennedy as he lay on the ground, told NPR in 2018. “And as he let go, somebody shot him.”

“I could feel a steady stream of blood coming through my fingers,” Romero added. “I remember I had a rosary in my shirt pocket and I took it out, thinking that he would need it a lot more than me. I wrapped it around his right hand and then they wheeled him away.”

Douglas Kennedy, who was a toddler when his father was killed, said he was moved to tears by Sirhan’s remorse and he should be released if he’s not a threat to others.

“I’m overwhelmed just by being able to view Mr. Sirhan face to face,” he said. “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.” Douglas Kennedy is also a Fox News contributor.

Sirhan’s potential release was opposed by some Kennedy family members, Los Angeles law enforcement officers and members of the public, who submitted letters arguing that he be kept in prison, Parole Board Commissioner Robert Barton said at the start of the proceeding.

In this May 9, 1968 file photo, Sen. Robert F. Kennedy speaks to the delegates of the United Auto Workers at a convention hall in Atlantic City, N.J. (AP Photo, File)

In this May 9, 1968 file photo, Sen. Robert F. Kennedy speaks to the delegates of the United Auto Workers at a convention hall in Atlantic City, N.J. (AP Photo, File)

Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascon, who is facing a recall effort over his progressive reform policies, has said he idolized Kennedy but did not send any prosecutors to the hearing as part of a promise not to influence such proceedings. 

“The role of a prosecutor and their access to information ends at sentencing,” Alex Bastian, special advisor to Gascon, said in a statement to Fox News. “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. The parole board’s sole purpose is to objectively determine whether someone is suitable for release.”

Sirhan’s defense attorney, Angela Berry, argued that the board’s decision should be based on who her client is today and not about past events, which is what the board has based its parole denials on before. She said she plans to focus on his exemplary record in prison and show that he poses no danger.

In this June 28, 1968, file photo, Sirhan Bishara Sirhan is escorted by his attorney, Russell E. Parsons from Los Angeles county jail chapel to enter plea to charge of murder in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/George Brich, File)

In this June 28, 1968, file photo, Sirhan Bishara Sirhan is escorted by his attorney, Russell E. Parsons from Los Angeles county jail chapel to enter plea to charge of murder in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/George Brich, File)

“We can’t change the past, but he was not sentenced to life without the possibility of parole,” Berry told The Associated Press on Thursday. “To justify denying it based on the gravity of the crime and the fact that it disenfranchised millions of Americans is ignoring the rehabilitation that has occurred and that rehabilitation is a more relevant indicator of whether or not a person is still a risk to society.”

If released, Sirhan could be deported to Jordan. That raised concerns for Barton, who said he feared he could be a lightning rod for more violence. Sirhan said he was too old to get involved in the Middle East conflict. 

In this June 5, 1968, file photo, Sen. Robert F. Kennedy addresses campaign workers moments before being shot in Los Angeles. At his side are his wife, Ethel, and his California campaign manager, Jesse Unruh, speaker of the California Assembly. (AP Photo/Dick Strobel, File)

In this June 5, 1968, file photo, Sen. Robert F. Kennedy addresses campaign workers moments before being shot in Los Angeles. At his side are his wife, Ethel, and his California campaign manager, Jesse Unruh, speaker of the California Assembly. (AP Photo/Dick Strobel, File)

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“The same argument can be said or made that I can be a peacemaker, and a contributor to a friendly nonviolent way of resolving the issue,” Sirhan said.

The Ambassador Hotel was closed in 1989 and the site was demolished in 2006. Former President Trump was once part of a group to purchase the hotel. The site is now home to the Robert F. Kennedy Community Schools complex.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 


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