SAN DIEGO, March 1 (AP) — California’s parole board voted to free Robert Kennedy’s assassin two years ago, but the decision was overturned by the governor.
Sirhan Sirhan is due to appear before the board again Wednesday at the San Diego County federal prison to request his release.
Even if the board rules Sirhan is fit for a second release, his lawyer, Angela Berry, said she doesn’t think it will change Gov. Gavin Newsom’s mind because of his “affinity for RF Kennedy,” whom Newsom called a political hero
That’s why she said she is also turning to the courts. 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.
Newsom denied Sirhan freedom in 2022, saying he remained a threat to the public and had failed to accept responsibility for a crime that changed American history.
Berry said the 78-year-old, who has spent more than 54 years in prison, is no danger to society and should be released. She said that would be the point she and Sirhan would make again to the board.
“The last time they found him fit for release, nothing changed,” Berry said. “He continues to do well.”
In a 3 1/2-minute message played during a news conference in Berry in September, Sirhan said he regrets his actions every day. It was the first time Sirhan’s voice has been heard in public since a televised parole hearing in 2011, when California banned audio or video recordings of such proceedings.
“To transform this burden into something positive, I have devoted my life to self-improvement, teaching others in prison how to live a peaceful life centered on nonviolence,” he said. “By doing this, I ensure that no one else becomes a victim of my actions again and hopefully have an impact on others.”
In 1968, Serhan shot and killed Kennedy after the U.S. senator from New York declared victory in California’s crucial Democratic presidential primary. He wounded five others in the shooting at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles.
Sirhan was initially sentenced to death, but that sentence was commuted to life in prison in 1972 when the California Supreme Court briefly outlawed the death penalty.
He has been denied parole 15 times until the board recommends his release in 2021.
Sirhan’s younger brother, Munir Sirhan, said his brother could live with him in Pasadena, California, if he is paroled. Sirhan Sirhan has waived his right to object to deportation to his native Jordan.
Berry filed a 53-page writ of habeas corpus asking the judge to rule that Newsom violated state law that says prisoners should be released on parole unless they pose a current and unreasonable risk to public safety. California’s most recent law also requires parole teams to consider Sirhan’s young age when he committed the crime — 24 — and the fact that he is now an older prisoner.
She questioned 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 alleges that Newsom misrepresented the facts in his decision.
Newsom’s office declined to comment.
Newsom overruled two parole commissioners who found Sirhan was no longer a risk. Newsom said the Palestinian Christian immigrant from Jordan has failed to deny, among other factors, the violence committed in his name, raising the risk that he could spark political unrest.
The ruling split the Kennedy family, with Kennedy’s wife, Ethel Kennedy, and six of Kennedy’s nine surviving children opposing his parole. Attorneys representing the family members will present their arguments against his release at the hearing. (Associated Press)
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