SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Sirhan Sirhan, who assassinated presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy in 1968, is asking a judge on Wednesday to release him from prison overturning California Governor Gavin Newsom’s denial of his parole earlier this year.
Sirhan shot Kennedy moments after the US senator from New York claimed victory in California’s Democratic presidential primary. He injured five others in the shooting at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles.
Newsom said in January that Sirhan remained a threat to the public and had not taken responsibility for a crime that changed American history.
But her lawyer, Angela Berry, says there is no evidence her client, now 78, remains dangerous.
She files what is called a writ of habeas corpus asking a judge to rule that Newsom violated state law, which says inmates should be paroled unless they pose a risk unreasonable for public safety. Recent California laws also required the parole board to consider that Sirhan had committed the offense at a young age, at the age of 24, and was now an elderly prisoner.
Berry said she is challenging the governor’s overthrow as an “abuse of power,” a denial of Sirhan’s constitutional right to due process, and a violation of California law. He also alleges that Newsom misrepresented the facts in his decision.
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Berry said the governor “acted with personal bias, incorporated the wrong law, ignored mitigating evidence, and failed to grant Sirhan the same rights as others eligible for parole.”
Newsom overruled two parole board members who found Sirhan was no longer a risk. Among other factors, Newsom said the Christian Palestinian who immigrated from Jordan did not speak out against the violence committed in his name, adding to the risk that he could incite political violence.
The decision has divided the iconic Kennedy family, with two of RFK’s sons – Douglas Kennedy and Robert F. Kennedy Jr. – supporting his release. But RFK’s wife, Ethel Kennedy, and six of Kennedy’s nine surviving children opposed his parole.
Newsom has cited RFK as his political hero and keeps photos of RFK in his official and home offices, including that of Kennedy with his late father. Berry accused him of politicizing the parole process.
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Berry accused Newsom of placing his “political goals and agenda above those of the Constitution.”
Newsom’s office did not respond to a request for comment. Newsom, a Democrat, has in recent months sought greater national recognition by calling out Republicans, particularly the governors of Florida and Texas. Newsom is up for re-election in November, but he has also sparked speculation about his presidential ambitions, which he has repeatedly denied.
It’s unclear how quickly a judge could rule on Berry’s motion, and either side could appeal an unfavorable ruling. but Sirhan is set for another parole hearing on March 1.
Sirhan was originally sentenced to death, but that sentence was commuted to life when the California Supreme Court briefly banned capital punishment in 1972.
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