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Photo Credit: California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation via AP.
Photo Credit: California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation via AP.

Sirhan Sirhan gets his parole denied by Gov. Gavin Newsom. What's next?

The man convicted for the 1968 assassination of Robert F. Kennedy has served the last 53 years in prison. 

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Sirhan Sirhan, the man convicted of assassinating Robert F. Kennedy in 1968, had his parole rejected by California Governor Gavin Newsom. 

This news comes just under five months after California’s Board of Parole Hearings found Sirhan suitable for parole after spending the last 53 years in prison. 

California Governor Gavin Newsom made the decision to deny Sirhan’s parole due to his lack of accountability and insight that would lead to his safe release into the community.

In an Jan. 13 op-ed published in the Los Angeles Times, Gov. Newsom explained his decision. 

“Kennedy’s assassination not only changed the course of this nation and robbed the world of a promising young leader, it also left his 11 children without a father and his wife without a husband,” wrote Newsom.

“Yet, after decades in prison, Sirhan still lacks the insight that would prevent him from making the kind of dangerous and destructive decisions he made in the past. The most glaring proof of Sirhan’s deficient insight is his shifting narrative about his assassination of Kennedy, and his current refusal to accept responsibility for it,” Newsom continued.

While Newsom described Sirhan’s role in assassinating Kennedy as “overwhelming and irrefutable,” he went on to provide a timeline of Sirhan’s denial of his actions.

According to Newsom’s op-ed, Sirhan recorded his plans to kill Kennedy prior to the assassination and later accepted sole responsibility for it in a televised interview. He then began to dodge responsibility in 2016, claiming he did not kill Kennedy based on what he had read in his attorney’s legal briefs, before more recently portraying himself as the victim who “was in the wrong spot at the wrong time.”

Newsom then went on to say that due to Sirhan’s lack of insight, “his release on parole would pose a threat to public safety.” 

He closed his piece by stating Sirhan has much work to do to “bind up the wounds among us and to become in our own hearts brothers and countrymen once again,” quoting the words of Kennedy himself.

Two Sides of the Spectrum

While many side with the Governor and his views about Sirhan’s perceived still-existing societal threats, Kennedy’s wife, Ethel, and their children, have been on both sides of the fence when it comes to the possibility of Sirhan getting paroled. 

A majority of their 9 surviving children believe Sirhan should remain in prison for the remainder of his life. 

When the California Board of Parole hearings recommended the release of Sirhan on August 27, their son Max Kennedy described his reaction as “devastated.”

“I was shocked, deeply dismayed, emotional,” he told The Atlantic.

In a similar sentiment, another son, Christopher, described his reaction as “stunning, shocked, overwhelmed, disappointed, angry, depressed, agitated.”

Their daughter, Kerry, posted a full statement on Twitter on behalf of Max and Christopher, other brothers Joseph and Rory, and their sister, Courtney. 

Kennedy's widow has maintained a hard stance against Sirhan being granted his freedom.

“Our family and our country suffered an unspeakable loss due to the inhumanity of one man. We believe in the gentleness that spared his life, but in taming his act of violence, he should not have the opportunity to terrorize again ... He should not be paroled,” she wrote in a statement

In a separate statement after Gov. Newsom’s rejection, those Kennedy family members expressed they were “deeply relieved” by the governor’s decision, demanding that Sirhan “must transform himself.”  

"We are deeply grateful for this decision, aimed at ensuring that no family nor our nation will suffer the same heart-breaking, irredeemable loss," they added in the statement.

However, not all of Kennedy’s children and family share the same sentiment — some are in favor of Sirhan’s release. 

Douglas Kennedy, shared that he was overwhelmed to see Sirhan face-to-face during his hearing.

“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,” he told the Associated Press

Robert Kennedy Jr. has also been in favor of Sirhan’s release. He wrote in his own op-ed piece in the San Francisco Chronicle that he met Sirhan in prison in 2018, “who wept” and “asked for forgiveness,” adding he saw Sirhan display remorse. 

“While nobody can speak definitively on behalf of my father, I firmly believe that based on his own consuming commitment to fairness and justice, that he would strongly encourage this board to release Mr. Sirhan because of Sirhan’s impressive record of rehabilitation,” he wrote in the letter.

Whether Newsom decided to reject or uphold Sirhan’s parole release, it is likely that the Kennedy family would remain on their respective sides of the argument. 

What Now?

Last August marked the 16th time Sirhan has appeared before a parole board since his conviction. 

Originally sentenced to death, his sentence was commuted to life in prison in 1972,  after the California State Supreme Court declared the death penalty unconstitutional. 

With this latest development — 50 years later — Sirhan’s fight for his release continues. 

Angela Berry, Sirhan’s attorney said in a statement that, “Not an iota of evidence exists to suggest Mr. Sirhan is still a danger to society.”

“Mr. Sirhan has been a model prisoner for half a century … and the law requires his release,” she added. 

Now 77 years old and having spent 53 years behind bars, the questions remain: will this be the final time Sirhan appears before a parole board, or will he get further opportunities down the line?

Only time will tell. 

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