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Several of Robert F. Kennedy’s children are urging state officials to block Sirhan Sirhan’s parole following last week’s decision by the California Parole Board recommending his release.
On Friday, a two-person board recommended Sirhan, 77, for parole more than five decades after he gunned down Kennedy in 1968 at a Los Angeles hotel. Shortly after the announcement, six of Kennedy’s surviving children signed and published a scathing letter demanding the parole recommendation be reversed.
"We urge the Parole Board staff, the full Board, and ultimately, Governor Newsom, to reverse this initial recommendation,” the statement said. “It is a recommendation we intend to challenge every step of the way, and we hope that those who also hold the memory of our father in their hearts will stand with us.”
The statement, which appeared on Kerry Kennedy’s Instagram page, was also signed by Joseph P. Kennedy II, Courtney Kennedy, Christopher G. Kennedy, Maxwell Taylor Kennedy, and Rory Kennedy.
“Our father’s death impacted our family in ways that can never adequately be articulated but today’s decision by a two-member parole board has inflicted enormous additional pain,” the statement added.
On June 5, 1968, Sirhan fatally shot Kennedy at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles after the U.S. senator delivered a ballroom speech while campaigning for president. Kennedy died the following day. Sirhan, who confessed to the slaying but maintained he didn’t recall pulling the trigger, was convicted of first-degree murder in Kennedy’s assassination in 1969. He later admitted to targeting Kennedy over his vocal support for Israel.
On Saturday, Maxwell Taylor Kennedy, in an impassioned op-ed for the Los Angeles Times, also begged Gov. Gavin Newsom to reverse the parole board’s decision regarding Sirhan’s potential release.
"On behalf of my mother and all Americans whose lives were altered by this appalling crime, I condemn this unwarranted recommendation and urge Gov. Gavin Newsom to do the right thing and publicly reject the panel's decision," Maxwell Taylor Kennedy also wrote in an op-ed for the Los Angeles Times on Saturday. "I commit myself to doing everything within my power to stop his release."
The Kennedy family also took aim at L.A. County District Attorney George Gascón, who didn’t dispute Sirhan’s release or participate in Friday’s parole hearing.
“The process was flawed,” Maxwell Taylor Kennedy added. “Because of L.A. County District Attorney George Gascón’s policies, no one from his office was allowed to be present at the parole hearing to give voice to the views of the families affected by this crime. Nor did Gascón have the courage to show up to restate the severity of the crime and the reasons so many Americans feel that Sirhan should remain behind bars.”
In total, Sirhan has been denied parole 15 separate times. Last week’s hearing marked the first time prosecutors didn’t actively argue for Sirhan’s continued incarceration. Gascón’s office, meanwhile, acknowledged prosecutors should play a limited role, if any, in paroling convicted offenders, regardless of a case’s notoriety.
“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 last week.
The California Parole Board is expected to make a final written determination within 120 days regarding Sirhan’s parole. Newsom, however, will have the final say. He has an additional 30 days to either approve or deny the parole board’s decision.
Meanwhile, Sirhan said he was both stunned and elated at the prospect of possibly walking free after more than half a century behind bars.
“The whole experience for him was very surreal,” Angela Berry, his defense attorney, told Oxygen.com on Monday. “It’s kind of sinking in now.”
The California lawyer, who described the case as political by nature, brushed off the Kennedy family’s protests regarding her client’s pending release.
“Politics and emotions are on one side of this and then we’ve got the law on the other,” Berry said. “I feel for the Kennedy’s still holding onto the grief that they have for 53 years. It’s understandable but it is misplaced.”
Berry was adamant the parole board didn’t falter in its decision and noted that two of Kennedy’s sons — Robert Kennedy Jr. and Douglas Kennedy — support Sirhan’s release.
“What the board is supposed to be looking at, not what the crime was 53 years ago — the board is to look at whether or not he poses a current danger to society,” she explained. “The board followed the law.”
Sirhan earned a college degree and facilitated Alcoholics Anonymous meetings while incarcerated, his lawyer said. He also worked as a kitchen porter and in a prison engineering department.
“He doesn’t pose a current risk to society,” Berry explained.
Sirhan could be remanded to immigration detention or deported, if his parole is officially granted, according to his legal team. He aims to either relocate to Jordan or live with his brother in Pasadena, California.
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