NewsWorldRobert F. Kennedy's killer gets parole on his 16th...

Robert F. Kennedy’s killer gets parole on his 16th attempt

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(CNN) – A panel recommended on Friday that Sirhan Sirhan, the man convicted of assassinating Senator Robert F. Kennedy in 1968, be paroled. After spending 53 years in prison, the 77-year-old inmate’s fate is now in the hands of the Governor of California.

Two of Kennedy’s surviving sons, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. and Douglas Kennedy, supported the release during Sirhan’s sixteenth appearance before the parole board.

Sirhan came to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation in May 1969 after being convicted of premeditated murder and assault with intent to kill.

“I am overwhelmed to be able to see Mr. Sirhan face to face,” said Douglas Kennedy, who was a child when his father was shot and killed in 1968, during the virtual hearing. his name in one way or another. And today I am grateful to see him as a human being worthy of compassion and love, “he added.

Sirhan, who was dressed in a blue uniform with a paper towel folded like a handkerchief in his pocket, smiled.

“I have some love for you,” Douglas Kennedy told the inmate, who nodded and lowered his head.

Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who has spoken out in favor of Sirhan’s release in the past, wrote in support of parole. He said he was touched when he met Sirhan, “who cried, held my hands and asked for forgiveness,” and offered to be “a guiding friend to him.”

Sirhan Sirhan

The two-person panel recommended parole, but said the decision is not yet final. Despite the recommendation, the board’s decision could be reversed by California Governor Gavin Newsom, who will determine whether the decision is compatible with public safety, a process that could take a few months.

Sirhan has “no intention” to be a repeat offender

Although it was Sirhan’s 16th parole hearing, it was the first time that state prosecutors had not opposed his release.

Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascon did not make his prosecutors available to speak during Sirhan’s parole hearing, stating his position that the role of a prosecutor ends with sentencing.

Los Angeles police submitted a letter opposing Sirhan’s release, according to Board of Parole Commissioner Robert Barton, who said there were also letters from the public and members of the Kennedy family.

Barton said the panel considers all requests, but is also trying to determine whether Sirhan poses a danger to society.

“I have no such intention at all,” Sirhan said at one point about the possibility of reoffending.

Barton said Sirhan qualified as a juvenile delinquent and was a youth eligible for parole, and the board is required to give that “great weight” by law. He is also qualified for senior probation at age 77 and after serving more than 20 years in prison.

Gascón’s adviser Alex Bastian said in a statement this week that the parole board has all the pertinent facts and assessments, along with Sirhan’s behavior during incarceration.

“If someone is the same person who committed a heinous crime, that person is not properly deemed eligible for release. However, if someone is no longer a threat to public safety after serving more than 50 years in prison, then the parole board can recommend release based on an objective determination, “Bastian said.

“Our office policies take these principles into account, and as such, our prosecutors stay out of the parole board hearing process,” Bastian added.

Gascón’s office said past practice, typical of many prosecutors across the country, almost always involved objecting to the release of prisoners based solely on the circumstances of the crime and not on the inmate’s actions in subsequent years. The new directive aims to leave the decision to the parole board.

Barton said the absence of the district attorney made no difference to the decision because prosecutors had opposed probation in the past.

Gascón was elected district attorney late last year with a promise to eliminate certain criminal justice reforms, including ending cash bail for certain misdemeanors, the death penalty, and the practice of charging minors as adults. .

Sirhan shot Kennedy in the Los Angeles hotel kitchen

Sirhan shot Kennedy to death in the kitchen of the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles after a campaign event in which Kennedy celebrated primary victories in his race for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1968.

Initially sentenced to death for the murder, Sirhan’s punishment was replaced by life in prison in 1972 after the California State Supreme Court ruled the death penalty unconstitutional.

Sirhan Sirhan is herded out of the Ambassador Hotel after the shooting of Senator Robert F. Kennedy.

Angela Berry, Sirhan’s attorney, provided sentencing memoranda that focus on her client’s youth at the time of the murder – he was 24 years old – and his childhood. Describing Sirhan as a Palestinian who became a refugee at age four, he “witnessed atrocities that most of us only see in movies or in our worst nightmares” before immigrating to the United States as a teenager.

Berry praised the panel for “keeping politics out and following the law.” She said she and Sirhan congratulated each other and was concerned that other inmates would try to “jeopardize” her eventual release date.

Barton asked Sirhan what his life intention was at age 24.

The inmate said he wanted a career, to get married and to establish himself as a “good solid member of the community” and that is what he hoped to do if he was released.

Barton asked Sirhan if he follows the Middle East conflict and his feelings about it.

Sirhan said he did not follow the situation, but thinks about the refugees and their suffering. At that moment he collapsed.

“Take a couple of deep breaths,” Barton said.

Barton reminded him that the conflict has not disappeared.

Sirhan said he felt “the misery these people are experiencing. It is painful.” He called them “relatives” and said that he would not be human if their plight did not move him.

“Although whatever I wanted to do in the future, it would be to solve it peacefully,” Sirhan added.

“I believe that peaceful means are the best way to resolve that conflict in the Middle East.”

Barton said the panel had no control over whether Sirhan would be deported to Jordan.

“For me, the concern would be that you become some kind of, you know, symbol or lightning rod to encourage more violence,” Barton said.

If paroled, Sirhan plans to live with his only surviving brother in Los Angeles, according to the filing.

Barton said that if he is released, Sirhan will likely be placed in a transitional home at first and transferred to his brother’s home six months later.

“I want to be there for him,” Sirhan said of his brother during the hearing.

Sirhan said he was not a heavy drinker and had been drinking hard liquor the night of the shooting. He promised to remain “alcohol free” and said he was learning to control his anger. “It’s a process,” Sirhan said.

He said he is a Christian and meditates regularly. Sirhan said he took responsibility for bringing the gun to the hotel and firing the shots.

Barton pressed Sirhan about the Middle East conflict and his bouts of impulsiveness and poor judgment clouded by alcohol at the time.

“I’ve tried to establish, by asking you questions, if you are still that person,” Barton said.

“No, I’m not,” Sirhan said.

An attorney for the Kennedy family did not immediately respond to a request for comment from CNN.

Sirhan was convicted of killing Kennedy and wounding five other people on June 5, 1968, shooting inside the kitchen service pantry of the former Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles.

Three bullets struck Kennedy’s body, while a fourth bullet harmlessly penetrated the shoulder of his jacket. Kennedy, the most seriously injured of the six victims, died the next day. The other five people survived their injuries.

In 1968, Kennedy, 42, the younger brother of assassinated President John F. Kennedy, was one of the leading contenders for the Democratic presidential nomination against Vice President Hubert Humphrey and Senator Eugene McCarthy.

On the night of his assassination, Kennedy had just appeared on live television from a ballroom at the Ambassador Hotel, having achieved victory over McCarthy in the California primary elections. Moments later, he was mortally wounded in the hotel’s utility pantry while on his way to a press conference. The shooting in the pantry was not caught on any camera.

At Friday’s hearing, Sirhan was asked what he would say about people who think he’s angry after decades behind bars.

“I don’t agree with them,” he said. “I am thankful for saving my life in the gas chamber. I value my life so much … I would never put myself in danger again.”

He added: “You have my promise. I will always seek safety, peace and non-violence.”

CNN’s Jack Hannah and Natasha Chen contributed to this report.

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