California Gov.Gavin Newsom on Thursday denied the release of Robert F. Kennedy’s assassin Sirhan Sirhan more than a half a century after his violent attack on a presidential hopeful that remains one of the most notorious crimes in American history.
Newsom explained in his nine-page decision why he disagreed with the state parole panel that recommended Sirhan’s release in August. Newsom said despite considering Sirhan’s age, he believes the 77-year old still poses a threat to the public as he continues to deny full responsibility for murdering Kennedy.
“Mr. Sirhan’s implausible and unsupported denials of responsibility and lack of credibility elevate his current risk level,” Newsom wrote in his decision. “They indicate that Mr. Sirhan, despite decades of incarceration and purported efforts in rehabilitation, has failed to address the deficiencies that led him to assassinate Senator Kennedy. The record further demonstrates that Mr. Sirhan has not meaningfully disclaimed political violence—committed by him or in his name—nor shown that he appreciates the unique risks created by his commission of a political assassination. These gaps in Mr. Sirhan’s insight have a close nexus to his current risk of inciting further political violence.”
During his August parole hearing in front of a two-person panel, Sirhan expressed remorse and said he recommitted his life to peace.
“Sen. 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 of such a horrible deed, if I did in fact do that,” he said to the panel. “I’m still responsible for being there and probably causing the whole incident, through my own gun or other guns.”
Sirhan, a Palestinian immigrant, shot Kennedy on June 5, 1968 as he celebrated in a room full of supporters at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles after securing the pivotal Democratic presidential primary. Sirhan was initially sentenced to death in May 22, 1969 but that was commuted to life when the California Supreme Court paused capital punishment in 1972.
Two of Kennedy’s children, Douglas Kennedy and Robert F.Kennedy Jr, submitted letters on Sirhan’s behalf. Robert Jr. said he believed his father would’ve shown Sirhan mercy.
For Newsom, who has referred to Kennedy as his “political hero,” the decision was also a personal one. He has told reporters that he keeps a photo of Kennedy and his father, appellate court Judge William Newsom, on his desk.
In his decision, Newsom said Sirhan’s actions not only robbed the Kennedy family of a husband and a father, but also the nation of a “promising young leader” during a time when the country was already in turmoil. The New York senator’s assassination was just nine weeks after Martin Luther King, Jr. was gunned down in Memphis and four years after Kennedy’s older brother, President John F.Kennedy, was murdered in Dallas.
Angela Berry, Sirhan’s attorney, said she plans to ask the judge to overturn Newsom’s denial. Sirhan will be up for another parole hearing sometime before February 2023.
Newsom said Sirhan continues to have “numerous deficiencies” in his understanding of the facts of his crimes despite coming before the parole board for the 16th time. The governor added he disagreed with the parole board’s findings that Sirhan had obtained sufficient anger management skills in the 53 years he has been in prison.
A new state law allows Newsom to consider inmates older than 60 who have served more than 25 years in prison for release. Newsom, however, said Sirhan was not a good candidate for parole because of his continuous refusal to accept responsibility, his failure to renounce political violence and his lack of managing “complex external triggers.”
“Mr. Sirhan’s crimes also caused great harm to the American people… The gravity of Mr. Sirhan’s crimes alone counsels against his release,” Newsom wrote.
With Post wires