Sirhan Sirhan assassinated Robert F. Kennedy in 1968 and has been in prison ever since.
- A California parole board recommended Sirhan for parole after two of RFK’s sons supported him.
- Gov. Gavin Newsom will make the final decision on whether to set Sirhan free.
Sirhan Sirhan shot and killed the former attorney general, senator, and presidential hopeful in 1968 at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles. Kennedy had just delivered a speech following his victory in California’s Democratic primary.
The 77-year-old, who has served 53 years in prison, has long maintained that he does not remember the killing.
Appearing on camera at the virtual proceeding, Sirhan said he has learned to control his anger and was committed to living peacefully, according to AP.
He said, “Sen. Kennedy was the hope of the world … and I harmed all of them and it pains me to experience that, the knowledge for such a horrible deed, if I did in fact do that.”
Douglas Kennedy, a toddler when his father was killed, told the two-person board panel that he was moved to tears by Sirhan’s remorse and should be released if he’s not a threat to others, AP reported.
“I’m overwhelmed just by being able to view Mr. Sirhan face to face,” Douglas Kennedy said, according to AP.
“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.”
Another of RFK’s sons, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., also said he favored Sirhan’s release.
In a letter to the parole board, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. said that he met Sirhan in prison and was moved by his father’s killer, “who wept, clenching my hands, and asked for forgiveness,” AP reported.
Paul Schrade, an aide to RFK who was among five people wounded in the shooting, also spoke in favor of Sirhan’s release, AP reported.
But six of RFK’s nine surviving children said they were shocked by the decision, AP reported and urged California Governor Gavin Newsom to keep Sirhan behind bars.
“He took our father from our family and he took him from America,” the six siblings wrote in a statement, AP reported.
This hearing marks Sirhan’s 16th attempt at securing parole.
At his last parole hearing in 2016, the panel determined that Sirhan did not show adequate remorse or understanding of the enormity of his crime, AP said.
Although California’s parole board voted to free the assassin, his release is not assured.
The ruling will be reviewed over 120 days, AP said, and then it will be sent to the governor, who will have 30 days to decide whether to grant, reverse or modify it.
Sirhan, a Christian Palestinian from Jordan, previously admitted that he was angry with Kennedy because of the senator’s support of Israel.
When asked about the Middle East conflict during the parole hearing, AP said Sirhan broke down in tears.
He explained that he no longer follows the region’s politics but was emotional thinking about the suffering of refugees.
Sirhan was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to death but later commuted to life when the California Supreme Court briefly outlawed capital punishment in 1972.