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Prosecutors won’t block parole for the man convicted in Robert F. Kennedy’s 1968 assassination, according to reports.
Sirhan Sirhan, 77, is facing his 16th parole hearing on Friday for gunning down Kennedy in the lobby of a Los Angeles hotel on June 5, 1968, shortly after the New York senator had won the California and South Dakota Democratic presidential primaries. He was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to 53 years behind bars with the possibility of parole.
Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón, a former police officer and Democrat who ran on a reform platform, explained the decision should be made by the California Parole Board, not by prosecutors, despite his admiration for the Kennedys.
“I can get very emotionally wrapped around my personal feelings [about] someone that killed someone that I thought could have been an incredible president for this country,” Gascón said, according to the Associated Press. “But that has no place in this process. Just like it doesn’t for the person nobody knows about.”
Gascón was adamant prosecutors shouldn’t play any role in parole hearings, particularly in decades-old cases.
“The role of a prosecutor and their access to information ends at sentencing,” Alex Bastian, special advisor to Gascón, said in a statement sent to Oxygen.com on Friday.
Sirhan’s freedom now hangs in the balance.
"We can’t change the past, but he was not sentenced to life without the possibility of parole," Sirhan’s attorney, Angela Berry, told the Associated Press this week. "To justify denying it based on the gravity of the crime and the fact that it disenfranchised millions of Americans is ignoring the rehabilitation that has occurred and that rehabilitation is a more relevant indicator of whether or not a person is still a risk to society."
Berry is hopeful that the absence of prosecutors' input will finally boost his chances of securing release.
"I like to think it’ll make a difference,” Berry added. “But I think everybody is not impervious to the fact that this is political.”
Kennedy was shot three times point blank from behind with a .22 caliber revolver. One bullet pierced his skull, entering his brain. Five others were also wounded in the shooting spree.
Kennedy was transported to the Good Samaritan Hospital, where he died on June 6. A massive funeral was held for him on June 8, 1968 in New York.
Following his arrest, Sirhan admitted to the shooting but said he didn’t recall pulling the trigger. The Palestinian man was subsequently painted as a radical militant by prosecutors and the press. He was convicted in 1969.
Sirhan later claimed he carried out Kennedy’s assassination because he was angered over the rising politician’s pro-Israel stance.
"My only connection with Robert Kennedy was his sole support of Israel and his deliberate attempt to send those 50 [fighter jet] bombers to Israel to obviously do harm to the Palestinians," Sirhan told British journalist David Frost in 1980.
Sirhan blamed the shooting on a mixture of alcohol and bitter feelings toward the one-year anniversary of the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.
Kennedy’s killing is considered to be one of the first acts of political violence on American soil resulting from the decades-old Middle Eastern conflict.
If paroled, Sirhan said he hopes to be deported to Jordan or either reside with his brother in Pasadena, California.
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