The Kennedy family were divided on Friday when a California panel recommended that Robert Kennedy’s assassin, Sirhan Sirhan, 77, be granted parole after nearly five decades in prison.
Six of the nine surviving children of the slain New York Senator issued a statement on Friday announcing that they were ‘devastated’ by the San Diego panel’s ruling.
Although most of the Kennedy family has avoided discussing or engaging with their father’s death and Sirhan in public, the parole board’s recommendation has pushed some of them to ‘adamantly oppose the parole and release of Sirhan Sirhan.’
Sirhan Sirhan, 77, was recommended to be released on parole by a California panel of Friday after 53 years in prison for murder. He is pictured on Friday
FOR: Robert F. Kennedy Jr. (left) and Douglas Kennedy (right) have supported Sirhan’s recommendation for parole
‘We are in disbelief that this man would be recommended for release,’ the statement from the six siblings read.
It was signed by Joseph P. Kennedy II, Courtney Kennedy Hill, Kerry Kennedy, Christopher G. Kennedy, Maxwell T. Kennedy and Rory Kennedy who write that the decision has ‘inflicted enormous additional pain.’
But two of RFK’s children, Douglas Kennedy, 54, and Robert F. Kennedy Jr., 67, have supported Sirhan’s parole.
Douglas addressed the two-person panel that recommended that parole be granted during a virtual hearing, according to The Associated Press.
‘I’m overwhelmed just by being able to view Mr. Sirhan face to face,’ he said moved to tears. ‘I’ve lived my life both in fear of him and his name in one way or another. And I am grateful today to see him as a human being worthy of compassion and love.’
RFK Jr. has spoken in favor of Sirhan’s release, and wrote in a letter that he met with his father’s killer in prison who ‘asked for forgiveness,’ the AP reported.
He has previously stated that he does not believe Sirhan killed his father.
RFK was shot in Los Angeles after giving a victory speech following his win in the South Dakota and California 1968 Democratic presidential primaries (Pictured: Ethel, left, RFK, right)
Sen. Robert Kennedy and Ambassador Hotel employee Juan Romero moments after RFK was shot by Sirhan Sirhan, June 1968
A mortally wounded Robert Kennedy on the floor of the kitchen at the Ambassador Hotel, June 1968
Robert Kennedy was walking through the kitchen of the hotel stopping to speak with supporters when he was shot, June 1968
RFK was taken to Good Samaritan Hospital and pronounced dead a day later, on June 6, 1968
Paul Schrade, who’d worked with RFK and was also shot that night, also believes that Sirhan was not the shooter and should be released.
‘Sirhan did not shoot Robert Kennedy,’ Schrade, 96, maintains. ‘I got the first shot, the second shot missed Kennedy,’ according to NPR.
He believes that unreliable ballistics evidence by the Los Angeles Police Department disrupted the case and advocates for Sirhan’s release in order to find RFK’s true assassin.
Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, 70, a former lieutenant governor of Maryland, and Ethel Kennedy, 93, RFK’s widow, have not publicly announced their opinions of Sirhan’s parole recommendation.
Two of Robert and Ethel’s 11 children are deceased. David Kennedy died at age 28 in 1984 and Michael Kennedy died at age 39 in 1997.
This marked Sirhan’s 16th attempt at parole. The panel’s recommendation still awaits a review by the California Parole Board and a final decision by Governor Gavin Newsom.
The review process could take up to 120 days.
Robert Kennedy was the younger brother to former President John F. Kennedy, serving as his brother’s US attorney general. He was then elected as a New York Senator.
RFK was 42 years old when he was pronounced dead on June 6, 1968 at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles. The rising politician was shot after giving a victory speech following his win in the South Dakota and California 1968 Democratic presidential primaries.
Sirhan was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to death in 1969. He is serving a life sentence at the Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility in San Diego County, California
Sirhan has attempted to be recommended for parole 15 times before Friday’s recommendation. The decision will now move to Governor Gavin Newsom’s desk
Sirhan stepped towards RFK with a rolled up campaign poster, hiding his .22 revolver shooting him in the head from only a foot away
He was immediately wrestled to the ground by RFK’s security team and taken into custody. He claims that he has been drinking alcohol and did not remember pulling the trigger
The shooting occurred in the kitchen area of the hotel as RFK and several of his staff made their way to the press room. He and five other people were shot as Sirhan was immediately apprehended.
Sirhan was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to death the next year. He eluded execution when the California Supreme Court briefly outlawed capital punishment in 1972 and lessened his sentence to life in prison with the possibility of parole.
The Palestinian immigrant claimed he had been drinking on the night of the assassination and doesn’t remember pulling the trigger.
If Sirhan is released, he may be deported to Jordan. He never obtained US citizenship after immigrating to the country from Israel as a child.