Sirhan Sirhan, the man convicted of assassinating Sen. Robert F. Kennedy during a presidential campaign stop in Los Angeles in 1968, was recommended for parole in San Diego on Friday.
According to The Associated Press, two commissioners of the California Board of Parole made their recommendation after reviewing Sirhan’s prison record and hearing from two of Kennedy’s sons.
Here’s what we know so far.
Who is Sirhan?
- Sirhan Sirhan, in full Sirhan Bishara Sirhan, (born March 19, 1944, Jerusalem), Palestinian-born Jordanian citizen who was convicted (1969) of fatally shooting U.S. Sen. Robert F. Kennedy on June 5, 1968.
- He received the death penalty, but the sentence was later commuted to life.
Sirhan shot Kennedy to death in the kitchen of the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles following a campaign event in which Kennedy celebrated primary victories in his run for the Democratic nomination for president in 1968.
Initially sentenced to death for the murder, Sirhan’s punishment was commuted to life in prison in 1972 after the California State Supreme Court declared the death penalty unconstitutional.
Sirhan arrived at the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation in May 1969 after being convicted of first-degree murder and assault with intent to murder.
After 53 years in prison, the 77-year-old inmate’s fate is now in the hands of California’s governor.
Who support to release Sirhan?
Two of Kennedy’s surviving sons, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. and Douglas Kennedy, supported the release during Sirhan’s 16th appearance before the parole board.
“I’m overwhelmed just by being able to view Mr. Sirhan face to face,” Douglas Kennedy said during the virtual hearing. “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.”
Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who has favored Sirhan’s release in the past, wrote in support of parole. He said he was moved when he first met Sirhan — “who wept, clinching my hands and asked for forgiveness” – and offered to be “a guiding friend for him.”
Paul Schrade, a labor leader who’d worked with the senator, was also shot by Sirhan that night, but he believes Sirhan should be released.
“Sirhan did not shoot Robert Kennedy,” Schrade, now 96, maintains. “I got the first shot, the second shot missed Kennedy.”
Schrade said unreliable ballistics evidence by the Los Angeles Police Department muddied the case, and as long as Sirhan is in prison, it will make it harder to identify the person who, in Schrade’s opinion, really killed Kennedy.
When will have the final decision?
The two-person panel recommended parole, but said the decision is not yet final. Despite the recommendation for release, the board’s decision could be reversed by Gov. Gavin Newsom. The California Governor will determine if the grant is consistent with public safety, a process that could take a few months.
The ruling by the two-person panel at Sirhan’s 16th parole hearing will be reviewed over the next 90 days by the California Parole Board’s staff. Then it will be sent to the governor, who will have 30 days to decide whether to grant it, reverse it or modify it.
16th time trying to get parole
Sirhan tried and failed to get parole 15 times earlier, with the last hearing in 2016. But this time around, there was no opposition from the new Los Angeles district attorney, George Gascón, whose office has a policy of not weighing in against parole.
Also working in Sirhan’s favor this time were changes to California law in recent years that make it easier for a prisoner to get parole for a crime committed at a young age. Sirhan was 24 when he shot Kennedy.
If Sirhan is released, he may face deportation to Jordan. A Palestinian refugee from Israel, he immigrated to the U.S. as a child and never obtained U.S. citizenship.