California parole board votes to release Robert F Kennedy assassin Sirhan Sirhan

Killer has served 53 years in prison for 1968 murder in Los Angeles

Graeme Massie
Los Angeles
Saturday 28 August 2021 02:49 BST
<p>In this image provided by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, Sirhan Sirhan arrives for a parole hearing Friday, Aug. 27, 2021, in San Diego.</p>

In this image provided by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, Sirhan Sirhan arrives for a parole hearing Friday, Aug. 27, 2021, in San Diego.

Robert F Kennedy’s assassin Sirhan Sirhan is one step closer to freedom after a California parole board voted that he should be released from prison.

But the parole of the 77-year-old, who murdered the New York Senator and brother of President John F Kennedy in Los Angeles in 1968, must now be approved by the full board and also the California governor.

The ruling in Sirhan’s favour came at his 16th parole hearing and after he has spent 53 years behind bars for the killing.

During the hearing Sirhan said that Kennedy had been “the hope of the world” and that he had committed a “horrible deed.”

Earlier Douglas Kennedy, who was just a child when his father was murdered, told the parole hearing in California that he believed in Sirhan’s remorse.

“I’m overwhelmed just by being able to view Mr Sirhan face to face,” he said during the hearing in front of two parole commissioners at San Diego County Prison.

“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.”

Kennedy was a Democratic presidential candidate when he was gunned down at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles moments after delivering a victory speech in the pivotal California primary.

Sirhan told members of the California Parole Board on Friday that he had learned to control his anger and believed in living peacefully.

“I would never put myself in jeopardy again,” said Sirhan, who appeared wearing a blue prison uniform.

“You have my pledge. I will always look to safety and peace and non-violence.”

Unusually for California parole hearings there was no prosecutor present to give law enforcement’s opinion on any release.

Los Angeles County district attorney George Gascon, a former police officer who took office last year after running on a reform platform, has a policy that prosecutors should not influence the decision to release a prisoner.

Mr Gascon has argued that any decision should be left to board members to evaluate if Sirhan has been rehabilitated and can be released without any danger to the community.

“Over half a century has passed and that young impulsive kid I was does not exist anymore ... Senator Kennedy was the hope of the world and I injured, and I harmed all of them and it pains me to experience that, the knowledge for such a horrible deed.”

Sirhan, a Christian Palestinian from Jordan, has previously said he was angry at Kennedy for his support of Israel, although he says he has no memory of the murder.

When asked about how he feels about the Middle East conflict on Friday, Sirhan broke down crying, and said that although he does not follow what happens there he does think about the suffering of refugees.

“The misery that those people are experiencing. It’s painful,” Sirhan said.

Sirhan’s sentence was reduced to life imprisonment when California abolished capital punishment in 1972.

The two-person board’s decision will be reviewed by the full parole board for 90 days before it becomes final.

California’s governor, currently Democrat Gavin Newsom, then has 30 days to accept, reject or send the decision back to the board.

Mr Newsom faces a recall election on 14 September to keep his job.

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