California Gov. Gavin Newsom has rejected parole for Sirhan Sirhan, concluding that the man convicted of assassinating Robert Kennedy “still lacks the insight that would prevent him from making the kind of dangerous and destructive decisions he made in the past.”
Sirhan was granted parole last summer by a state panel, but Newsom still had the authority to nix his release.
“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 wrote in an op-ed for the Los Angeles Times published Thursday.
The issue of whether Sirhan, 77, should be released divided children of Kennedy. Robert Kennedy Jr. and Douglas Kennedy argued for Sirhan’s release, but other children, as well as Kennedy’s widow Ethel, expressed opposition to it.
Sirhan’s attorney, Angela Berry, told the Associated Press that he would ask a judge to overturn the governor’s decision. She said Sirhan had demonstrated a record of rehabilitation, and that he no longer posed a public safety risk. The Parole Board weighed whether he was still a risk to society and his age in deciding whether to grant release.
Robert Kennedy was mortally wounded on June 5, 1968, shortly after speaking to exuberant supporters in Los Angeles following his victory in the California presidential primary. Kennedy died just over a day later at the Hospital of the Good Samaritan. He and his wife, Ethel, had 10 children, and an 11th was born following his death.
In his op-ed, Newsom argued that Sirhan has dodged responsibility for the assassination, after earlier confirming that he killed Kennedy and, in an interview with David Frost, that he acted alone.
“He claimed he could not remember the crime, then stated he was innocent,” Newsom wrote. “In 2016, Sirhan said he believed he did not kill Kennedy based on what he had read in his attorney’s legal briefs. As recently as last year, Sirhan portrayed himself as the victim, claiming he ‘was in the wrong spot at the wrong time.’ ”
The governor also wrote that Sirhan still posed a public safety risk, even in old age.
“Despite inciting violence in the past, recently Sirhan laughingly dismissed the current relevance of his status as an ideological lightning rod,” he wrote. “He does not understand, let alone have the skills to manage, the complex risks of his self-created notoriety. He cannot be safely released from prison because he has not mitigated his risk of fomenting further political violence.”
Six of the Kennedy children, along with Ethel Kennedy, issued a statement in which they said they were grateful and “deeply relieved” by Newsom’s decision. “Because of how entwined into popular culture this murder has become, amplified by the regularity of the inmate’s attempts to be freed, our family has been forced to watch our husband and father be killed thousands of times. The pain of reliving his last moments, over and over again, is simply unbearable. Instead of contrition, this inmate points to what he sees on the clock rather than to what he knows in his heart, believing somehow that the passage of time is expiation enough.”