California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation / via AP
SACRAMENTO, Calif .– The governor of California on Thursday rejected the release of Robert F. Kennedy’s assassin Sirhan Sirhan from prison more than half a century after the 1968 murder left a deep wound during one from America’s darkest times.
Gov. Gavin Newsom, who cited RFK as his “political hero” and embraced the historic significance of his decision, rejected a recommendation from a group of two parole board members. Newsom said Sirhan, now 77, poses an unreasonable threat to public safety.
“The assassination of Senator Kennedy by Mr. Sirhan is one of the most notorious crimes in American history,” Newsom wrote in its ruling. “After decades in prison, he failed to address the loopholes that led to the assassination of Senator Kennedy. Mr. Sirhan does not have the insight that would prevent him from making the same kinds of dangerous decisions as in the past.”
He said factors in his decision, including Sirhan’s refusal to accept responsibility for his crime, his lack of insight and the responsibility required to support his safe release, his inability to deny the violence committed on his behalf and his inability to mitigate his risk factors.
Sirhan will be summoned for a new parole hearing no later than February 2023.
Kennedy, the US senator from New York, was shot moments after claiming victory in the Democratic presidential primary in California. Five other people were injured in the assassination of the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles.
His brother, President John F. Kennedy, was assassinated in 1963.
The parole board’s recommendation in August to release Sirhan has divided the iconic Kennedy family, with two of RFK’s sons – Douglas Kennedy and Robert F. Kennedy Jr. – supporting his release. But six of the nine surviving children of Kennedy and Ethel Kennedy, RFK’s wife, have urged Newsom to block his parole.
The panel’s decision was based in part on several new California laws since he was denied parole in 2016 – the 15th time he has lost his release request.
The commissioners were to consider that Sirhan had committed his crime at a young age, when he was 24 years old; that he is now old; and that the Christian Palestinian who immigrated from Jordan suffered trauma as a child as a result of the conflict in the Middle East.
Additionally, Los Angeles County prosecutors did not oppose his parole, in line with District Attorney George Gascón’s policy that prosecutors should not be involved in deciding whether prisoners are ready to go. be released.
The decision had a personal touch for Newsom, a fellow Democrat, who displays RFK photos in his official offices and at home. One of them is Kennedy’s with Newsom’s late father.
Newsom has previously reflected on the gravity of having Sirhan’s fate in his hands, saying it was an emotional issue that echoed the turbulent ’60s and reopened memories many want to forget.
Sirhan was initially sentenced to death, but that sentence was commuted to life in prison when the California Supreme Court briefly banned capital punishment in 1972.
He now has heart disease and is a survivor of prostate cancer, valley fever and a throat slit by another prisoner in 2019, his lawyer, Angela Berry, said.
Munir Sirhan said his older brother could live with him if he was released and not deported to Jordan. Sirhan Sirhan has waived his right to fight the eviction.
During his parole hearing, white-haired Sirhan called Kennedy “the hope of the world.” But he stopped before taking full responsibility for a shooting that he said he couldn’t remember because he was drunk.
“It pains me… the knowledge of such a horrific act, if I actually did it,” Sirhan said.