California Gov. Gavin Newsom has denied granting parole to 77-year-old Sirhan Sirhan for the 1968 killing of Robert F. Kennedy. Sirhan has spent 53 years in prison, but Newsom maintains he poses a significant risk to society and should remain incarcerated. Two parole commissioners recommended Sirhan for release, but Newsom said no.
“Mr. Sirhan’s assassination of Senator Kennedy is among the most notorious crimes in American history,” Newsom wrote. “After decades in prison, he has failed to address the deficiencies that led him to assassinate Senator Kennedy. Mr. Sirhan lacks the insight that would prevent him from making the same types of dangerous decisions he made in the past.”
The governor said Sirhan has refused to accept responsibility for killing Kennedy, who was shot in the kitchen of the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles after he won the primaries election and was nominated for the presidency. Sirhan, a Palestinian who became a refugee at age four and relocated to the United States as a teenager, was 24 years old when he was convicted of murdering Kennedy.
Sirhan was sentenced to death by the court, but the California State Supreme Court abolished the death sentence in 1972, and his death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment. The convict said Kennedy was the “hope of the world” but didn’t recall shooting him because he was drunk on the day the incident occurred.
“It pains me…the knowledge for such a horrible deed if I did in fact do that,” he said.
Although six of Kennedy’s nine surviving children, including his wife Ethel, want Sirhan to die in prison, two of his children – Douglas Kennedy and Robert F. Kennedy Jr. – want him released. The family expressed joy that Gov. Newsom blocked Sirhan’s release and said he must redeem himself.
“The killer’s violent act contradicted the values of openness, dialogue, and democratic change that Robert Kennedy embraced and that underlie our political system,” they said. “The offender must transform himself. We are deeply grateful for this decision, aimed at ensuring that no family or our nation will suffer the same heart-breaking, irredeemable loss.”
Sirhan has applied for parole 16 times. The last time he did was in 2016. He is due for a new parole hearing before February 2023. His defense attorney, Angela Berry, said she might head to court to ask a judge to set aside Newsom’s parole denial. “We fully expect that judicial review of the governor’s decision will show that the governor got it wrong,” she said.
Berry said Sirhan has a remarkable prison record, and psychiatrists and psychologists found him reformed since the 1980s. She said her client has a heart problem and survived prostate cancer and Valley fever. A prisoner attacked him in 2019 and slashed his throat. While he may be deported to his home country of Jordan following his release, his brother Munir Sirhan said he can live with him in the US if he is not deported.