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Sirhan Sirhan, man who assassinated Robert F Kennedy, granted parole | California

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The man who killed Robert F Kennedy was granted parole on Friday after two of the former attorney general, senator and presidential hopeful’s sons spoke in favor of release and prosecutors declined to argue he should be kept behind bars.

The decision was a major victory for Sirhan Sirhan, 77, though it did not assure his release.

The ruling by the two-person panel at Sirhan’s 16th parole hearing will be reviewed over 90 days by the California parole board. Then it will be sent to the governor, who will have 30 days to decide whether to grant it, reverse it or modify it.

Douglas Kennedy, a toddler when his father was killed in 1968, said he was moved to tears by Sirhan’s remorse and said he should be released if he’s not a threat to others.

“I’m overwhelmed just by being able to view Mr Sirhan face-to-face,” he said. “I think 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.”

Robert Kennedy, a New York senator and brother of President John F Kennedy, was a Democratic presidential candidate when he was killed on 6 June 1968 at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles, moments after delivering a victory speech in the pivotal California primary.

Sirhan, convicted of first-degree murder, has said he doesn’t remember the killing. His lawyer, Angela Berry, argued that the board should base its decision on who Sirhan is today.

Prosecutors declined to participate or oppose his release, under a policy by Los Angeles county district attorney George Gascon, a former police officer who took office last year. Gascon, who said he idolized the Kennedys and mourned RFK’s assassination, believes the prosecutors’ role ends at sentencing and they should not influence decisions to release prisoners.

As Douglas Kennedy spoke, Sirhan, in a blue prison uniform with a paper towel folded like a handkerchief and tucked into his pocket, smiled as Kennedy spoke. Sirhan said he had learned to control his anger and was committed to living peacefully.

Bobby Kennedy addresses campaign workers moments before being shot in Los Angeles in 1968.
Bobby Kennedy addresses campaign workers moments before being shot in Los Angeles in 1968. Photograph: Dick Strobel/AP

“I would never put myself in jeopardy again,” he said. “You have my pledge. I will always look to safety and peace and non-violence.”

Some Kennedy family members, Los Angeles law enforcement officers and the public submitted letters opposing Sirhan’s release, parole board commissioner Robert Barton said at the start of the proceeding, which was held virtually.

“We don’t have a DA here but I have to consider all sides,” Barton said.

Sirhan, a Christian Palestinian from Jordan, has served 53 years. He has acknowledged he was angry at Kennedy for his support of Israel. When asked how he feels about the Middle East conflict today, Sirhan broke down crying and temporarily couldn’t speak.

“Take a few deep breaths,” said Barton, who noted the conflict had not gone away and still touched a nerve.

Sirhan said he doesn’t follow what’s going on in the region but thinks about the suffering of refugees.

“The misery that those people are experiencing. It’s painful,” Sirhan said.

If released, Sirhan could be deported to Jordan. Barton said he was concerned he might become a “symbol or lightning rod to foment more violence”.

Sirhan said he was too old to be involved in the Middle East conflict and would detach himself from it.

“The same argument can be said or made that I can be a peacemaker, and a contributor to a friendly nonviolent way of resolving the issue,” Sirhan said.

Paul Schrade, who was wounded in the shooting, also spoke in favor of his release. Robert F Kennedy Jr, who has spoken in favor of Sirhan’s release in the past, wrote in favor of parole.

Sirhan was sentenced to death but that sentence was commuted to life when the California supreme court briefly outlawed capital punishment in 1972. At his last parole hearing in 2016, commissioners concluded after more than three hours of intense testimony that Sirhan did not show adequate remorse or understand the enormity of his crime.

Sirhan has stuck to his account that he does not remember the killing.

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The Groucho

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