California Gov. Gavin Newsom has denied parole to Sirhan Sirhan, the man who assassinated Sen. Robert F. Kennedy (D-N.Y.) in 1968.
“Mr. Sirhan’s assassination of Senator Kennedy is among the most notorious crimes in American history,” the Democratic governor said in a statement Thursday. “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.”
In late August, the California parole board voted to release Sirhan, 77, who has been imprisoned for 53 years. But it was up to the governor to decide whether Sirhan would get out of prison. On Thursday, Newsom reversed the parole board’s decision.
Newsom had appeared resistant to the idea of granting Sirhan parole. In a September speech, after winning a recall election, Newson described Kennedy as his “political hero.” The governor has photos of the late senator in his office.
Kennedy’s family has been divided on whether Sirhan should get out on parole all these years later. Two of RFK’s sons, Douglas and Robert Jr., supported releasing Sirhan. Another six of the children vehemently opposed him getting out.
In early September, RFK’s widow Ethel, who is 93, said in a statement released by one of her daughters that Sirhan “should not be paroled.”
This year was Sirhan’s 16th attempt at parole, and the board found that he did not pose a threat to public safety, noting he had participated in over a dozen rehabilitative programs, including anger management and Alcoholics Anonymous.
Sirhan was 24 when he shot RFK in 1968, after the then-senator, who was running for president, gave a victory speech at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles after winning the California Democratic primary. Five others were also wounded in the shooting. Kennedy, 42, died the next day.
Sirhan maintains that he does not remember the shooting and that he had been drinking. The Christian Palestinian, who is a Jordanian citizen, has previously said he was angry at Kennedy’s support for Israel.
Sirhan was sentenced to death, but later had his sentence commuted to life with parole when California’s Supreme Court temporarily ruled the death penalty unconstitutional in 1972.
Sirhan’s August parole hearing marked the first time prosecutors did not appear to argue against his release after progressive Los Angeles District Attorney George Gascón began a new policy in which prosecutors do not go to parole hearings.
Kennedy’s son Douglas spoke during the virtual parole hearing, endorsing Sirhan’s release. “I am grateful today to see him as a human being worthy of compassion and love,” he said.
Robert F. Kennedy Jr. wrote a letter supporting Sirhan’s release, saying that, based on his father’s “consuming commitment to fairness and justice,” he believes RFK “would strongly encourage this board to release Mr. Sirhan because of Sirhan’s impressive record of rehabilitation.”