The man convicted of killing Robert F. Kennedy at a Los Angeles hotel in 1968 has once again been denied parole, following a decision by California Governor Gavin Newsom.
Newsom’s decision was announced on January 13, 2022 and goes against the recommendation of a two-person state parole panel, which stated in August 2021 that Sirhan Sirhan should be paroled. Their recommendation was partially influenced by two of Robert F. Kennedy’s children, who had advocated for Sirhan’s release.
Sirhan has been in prison since the shooting at the Ambassador Hotel, which occurred the day following Kennedy’s victory in California’s Democratic Presidential Primary. At the time, he was considered a leading candidate for the presidency.
Following his assassination, Minnesota Senator Hubert Humphrey secured the Democratic nomination, but lost the national election to Richard Nixon.
Writing in a statement, Newsom said:
“Mr. Sirhan’s assassination of Senator Kennedy is among the most notorious crimes in American history. 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.”
He also made mention of the political climate at the time, following the earlier assassinations of President John F. Kennedy and Civil Rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.
“[It] upended the 1968 presidential election, leaving millions in the United States and beyond mourning the promise of his candidacy. Mr. Sirhan killed Senator Kennedy during a dark season of political assassinations, just nine weeks after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s murder and four and a half years after the murder of Senator Kennedy’s brother, President John F. Kennedy.”
Sirhan has been in prison since the shooting, which also wounded five others. A Palestinian immigrant, he’d written a manifesto calling for Kennedy’s death. At the time, he claimed he couldn’t remember the shooting, due to his level of intoxication.
He was initially sentenced to death for the crime, but following California’s temporary outlawing of capital punishment in 1972, was commuted to life in prison. In 1973, terrorists in Sudan took 10 people hostages at the US Embassy, demanding the release of Sirhan and a number of other prisoners. When their demands weren’t met, three diplomats were killed.
During a virtual parole hearing in August 2021, Sirhan expressed remorse for what he’d done and stated he’d since recommitted to a life of peace:
“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, if I did, in fact, do that. I’m still responsible for being there and probably causing this whole incident, through my own gun or other guns.”
This did little to quell the anger of Kennedy’s widow, Ethel, and six of his children, who wrote in September that “our family and our country suffered an unspeakable loss due to the inhumanity of one man… He should not have the opportunity to terrorize again.”
Douglas and Robert F. Kennedy Jr. were the only ones to advocate for Sirhan’s release, saying he is “a human being worthy of compassion and love.”
Newsom added in his statement that he idolized Kennedy. On his desk sits a photograph of Kennedy with his father, appellate court Judge WIlliam Newsom. Months after assuming office, he lined the hallways of the Governor’s Office with photographs of those mourners who’d gathered to watch Kennedy’s funeral train as it traveled from New York to Washington, D.C.
This is not the first time the California governor has gone against the recommendation of the state’s parole board. In 2020, he denied the release of Charles Manson follower Leslie Van Houton.
This is the 15th time Sirhan has been denied parole. He will be scheduled for a new hearing no later than February 2023.