The California parole board’s vote to release Sirhan Sirhan, who assassinated Robert F. Kennedy in 1968, has outraged six of his surviving children and they have vowed to challenge the decision “every step of the way.”
“We are devastated that the man who murdered our father has been recommended for parole,” they wrote in a statement. “He took our father from our family and he took him from America. … We are in disbelief that this man would be recommended for release.”
Kennedy was a U.S. senator from New York running for the 1968 Democratic presidential nomination when he was gunned down by Sirhan at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles. Sirhan, now 77, admitted to the killing in 1969 and has been in prison for 53 years. Originally he was sentenced to death but his sentence was commuted to life after the state briefly outlawed capital punishment in the 1970s. A two-person parole panel on Friday determined that Sirhan is suitable for release, although that decision is subject to review by the board’s larger staff and would need to be approved by Gov. Gavin Newsom.
The six Kennedy siblings said they adamantly opposed Sirhan’s parole and release. In their statement they indicated that they are “shocked by a ruling” that ignores standards for paroling “a confessed, first-degree murderer in the state of California.” They said the board’s decision “has inflicted enormous additional pain.
“Our father’s death is a very difficult matter for us to discuss publicly and for the past many decades we have declined to engage directly in the parole process. We urge the Parole Board staff, the full board and ultimately … Newsom, to reverse this initial recommendation,” they wrote. “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 was signed by former Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy II, Christopher G. Kennedy (a former Illinois gubernatorial candidate), Courtney Kennedy, Kerry Kennedy, Maxwell T. Kennedy and Rory Kennedy. Two of Kennedy’s surviving sons, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. and Douglas Kennedy, offered their support for parole during Sirhan’s 16th appearance before the parole board Friday.
Sirhan, a Palestinian immigrant who had written a manifesto calling for Kennedy’s death, had said he was drunk and doesn’t remember opening fire.