SAN DIEGO (AP) — U.S. Sen. Robert F. Kennedy’s assassin was granted parole Friday after two of RFK’s sons spoke in favor of Sirhan Sirhan’s release and prosecutors declined to argue he should be kept behind bars.
The decision was a major victory for the 77-year-old prisoner, though it does not assure his release.
The ruling by the two-person panel at Sirhan’s 16th parole hearing will be reviewed over the next 90 days by the California Parole Board’s staff. Then it will be sent to the governor, who will have 30 days to decide whether to grant it, reverse it or modify it.
Douglas Kennedy, who was a toddler when his father was gunned down in 1968, said he was moved to tears by Sirhan’s remorse and he should be released if he’s not a threat to others.
“I’m overwhelmed just by being able to view Mr. Sirhan face to face,” he said. “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.”
Sirhan, who was in a blue prison uniform with a paper towel folded like a handkerchief and tucked into his pocket, smiled as Kennedy spoke.
The New York senator and brother of President John F. Kennedy was a Democratic presidential candidate when he was gunned down June 6, 1968, at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles moments after delivering a victory speech in the pivotal California primary.
Sirhan, who was convicted of first-degree murder, has said he doesn’t remember the killing.
Sirhan Sirhan, 77, told members of the California Parole Board at this 16th bid for freedom that he had learned to control his anger and was committed to living peacefully.
“I would never put myself in jeopardy again,” he said. “You have my pledge. I will always look to safety and peace and non-violence.”
Some Kennedy family members, Los Angeles law enforcement officers and the public submitted letters opposing Sirhan’s release, Parole Board Commissioner Robert Barton said at the start of the proceeding held virtually Friday, where Sirhan appeared from San Diego County prison.
“We don’t have a DA here, but I have to consider all sides,” Barton said, noting it would consider arguments made in the past by prosecutors opposing his release, depending on their relevance.
His lawyer, Angela Berry, argued that the board should base its decision on who Sirhan is today.
Prosecutors declined to participate or oppose his release under a policy by Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón, a former police officer who took office last year after running on a reform platform.
Gascón, who said he idolized the Kennedys and mourned RFK’s assassination, believes the prosecutors’ role ends at sentencing and they should not influence decisions to release prisoners.
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