A panel in the United States has denied the parole of Robert Kennedy’s assassin Sirhan Sirhan, saying the 78-year-old prisoner still has no insight into why he shot the senator and presidential candidate in 1968.
Sirhan’s attorney, Angela Berry, disputed that claim, saying Sirhan has shown that awareness and that his psychiatrists have said for decades that he is unlikely to offend again or pose a danger to society.
Two years ago, another California parole board agreed with Berry, voting to release Sirhan, but Governor Gavin Newson overturned the decision in 2022.
Berry said she believes the new board members Wednesday were influenced by California’s governor and by the lawyers representing Kennedy’s widow and some of his children. Several relatives of the slain politician, but not all of them, are against Sirhan’s release
Rejecting Sirhan’s freedom last year, Newsom said the prisoner remains a threat to the public and has failed to take responsibility for a crime that changed US history.
“I feel the board bowed to the governor’s political whims,” Berry said after the hearing at a federal prison in San Diego County, California.
Berry said the elderly inmate also “wasn’t as eloquent this time” when he spoke to the board. The board recommended that Sirhan do more work to better understand what makes someone a political assassin, she said.
The parole board hearing comes nearly six months after Berry asked a Los Angeles County judge to overturn Newsom’s denial. The case is ongoing and Berry said it was unclear how Wednesday’s refusal by the board will affect the case.
“They found him fit for release last time and nothing has changed,” said Berry. “He continues to show great behavior.”
In a three-and-a-half-minute message played at Berry’s press conference in September, Sirhan said he regretted his actions every day. It was the first time Sirhan’s voice had been publicly heard since a televised parole hearing in 2011 before California banned audio or visual recordings of such proceedings.
“To turn this weight into something positive, I dedicated my life to self-improvement; guiding others in prison on how to live a peaceful life centered on non-violence,” he said. “By doing this, I’m making sure no one falls victim to my actions again and hopefully I’m making an impact for others to follow.”
Sirhan shot Kennedy just after the U.S. Senator from New York claimed victory in the crucial 1968 Democratic presidential primary in California. He injured five others in the shooting at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles.
Sirhan, a Christian Palestinian from Jordan who suffered a childhood trauma from the Middle East bombings, has admitted he was angry with Kennedy for his support of Israel, but insists he does not remember the shooting and drank alcohol beforehand had been drinking.
He was convicted of first-degree murder and originally sentenced to death, but the sentence was commuted to life when the California Supreme Court briefly banned the death penalty in 1972.
Sirhan was paroled 15 times until 2021, when the board recommended his release.
Sirhan’s younger brother, Munir Sirhan, has said his brother can live with him in Pasadena, California, if he gets paroled.
Sirhan Sirhan has waived his right to challenge deportation to his native Jordan.
Berry filed a 53-page habeas corpus asking the judge to rule that Newsom had violated state law, which requires prisoners to be paroled unless they pose a current unreasonable risk to public safety. Recent California laws also required the parole panel to assume that Sirhan committed the crime at a young age, 24 years old, and that he is now an elderly inmate.
She is challenging the governor’s reversal as an “abuse of discretion”, a denial of Sirhan’s constitutional right to due process and a violation of California law. She also claims that Newsom misrepresented the facts in his decision.
Newsom’s office declined to comment.
Newsom ignored two probation commissioners who had determined that Sirhan was no longer a risk. Newsom said, among other things, that Sirhan has not repudiated violence committed in his name, raising the risk that he could spark political unrest.
The ruling has divided the Kennedy family, with the senator’s widow, Ethel Kennedy, and several of his nine surviving children opposing his parole.
Wednesday’s board denied Sirhan parole for three years, but he can petition to request that his 17th parole hearing be held before then.