Sirhan Sirhan, the Palestinian refugee who was found guilty of shooting US Senator and presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy (RFK) to death in 1968, has been granted parole by a two-person panel.
California parole commissioners recommended on Friday that Sirhan should be freed on parole after spending more than 50 years in prison for allegedly assassinating Kennedy during his campaign for president.
The 77-year-old Palestinian man has received the support of two of Kennedy’s sons. RFK’s third oldest child, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., revealed in 2018 that he doesn’t believe Sirhan had carried out the assassination and believes a second shooter was involved.
In an interview with The Washington Post, Kennedy Jr. said he had spent months reviewing autopsy results, police reports and interviewed witnesses who were there when his father was gunned down on June 6, 1968 in Los Angeles, California.
He told the newspaper that he also met Sirhan incarcerated in the massive Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility, a California state prison complex in the desert outside San Diego.
“I went there because I was curious and disturbed by what I had seen in the evidence,” said Kennedy, an environmental lawyer. “I was disturbed that the wrong person might have been convicted of killing my father. My father was the chief law enforcement officer in this country. I think it would have disturbed him if somebody was put in jail for a crime they didn’t commit.”
He said that after his research and his meeting with Sirhan after all this he found out that he did not kill his father, but there was a second gunman who carried out the assassination.
Kennedy Jr., and Douglas Kennedy, the tenth child of RFK, signaled that they favored Sirhan receiving parole during a proceeding held on Friday, The Associated Press reported.
“I’m overwhelmed just by being able to view Mr. Sirhan face to face,” Douglas Kennedy said, according to the AP. “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.”
However, the ruling does not mean that Sirhan will walk free as the staff of the California Parole Board must review the panel’s decision over the next 90 days, according to the AP. Following the review, California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) will decide if the parole will be granted or not.
Sirhan was convicted of shooting Kennedy on June 5, 1968, immediately after he had declared victory in the previous day's California Democratic presidential primary.
Kennedy had just finished delivering his victory speech to cheering supporters at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles, California when he decided to walk through the hotel kitchen.
He had stopped to shake hands with a busboy who had delivered food to his room the day before when he was shot in the head. He died the next day.
Who killed Kennedys?
Kennedy, who was just 42 when he was killed, was buried at Arlington Cemetery, near his brother, former President John F. Kennedy, who was assassinated 5 years earlier in 1963 at the age of 46.
Sirhan was originally sentenced to death. But when California briefly outlawed capital punishment, his sentence was reduced to life in prison. He has been denied parole 15 times.
Sirhan had initially said he fired at Kennedy because he was enraged by his support for Israel. But over the years, he has claimed to have no recollection of the shooting or his initial confession.
Paul Schrade, who was shot in the head while walking behind Kennedy, has also claimed that Sirhan didn’t shoot the American politician.
Schrade, now 96, believes Sirhan’s bullets struck him and four others wounded that day, but he didn’t shoot Kennedy.
An autopsy report shows Kennedy was shot in the back, while Sirhan was standing in front of him. Reports through the years also indicated 13 shots were fired that day when Sirhan’s gun only held eight bullets. Several witnesses said Sirhan wasn't close to the senator.
RFK's death has been the subject of widespread analysis, similar to the 1963 assassination of his older brother, John F. Kennedy.
Various experts have ascribed a variety of motives to the CIA’s involvement in the assassination of both Kennedys. The secretive nature of the CIA and its reputation for high-level political assassinations in the 1960s has made it a plausible perpetrator for the murder of the Kennedy brothers.