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Robert Kennedy’s Daughter: Why Sirhan Sirhan Does Not Deserve Parole

In my previous posts on Robert Kennedy assassin Sirhan Sirhan and the decision to grant him parole, I mentioned how anti-Israel propaganda site The Electronic Intifada argued there was “compelling evidence” he did not kill Kennedy. To this, I brought proof that Sirhan had himself admitted to doing the killing, proof The Electronic Intifada had inadvertently included in their post. I also noted how Sirhan seemed to be contradicting himself, on one hand now casting doubt on whether he killed Kennedy, and on the other saying he had learned to control his anger and was now committed to living peacefully.

Furthermore, The Electronic Intifada quoted one of Kennedy’s sons, who argued Sirhan should be released. To this, I showed how six of Kennedy’s living children definitely opposed parole.

Now one of them, Rory Kennedy, has written a powerful piece in the New York Times, arguing her father’s killer does not deserve parole. In it, she includes what I had mentioned: the fact Sirhan had admitted to the murder, but has over the years has no longer taken responsibility for it.

I never met my father. When Sirhan Sirhan murdered him in the kitchen hallway of the Ambassador Hotel in front of scores of witnesses, my mother was three months pregnant with me. Of my 10 older brothers and sisters, Kathleen, the eldest, was 16, and Douglas, the youngest, was little more than 1. I was born six months after my father’s death. My mother and the majority of my siblings agree with what I now write, although a couple do not. But I will say, for myself, while that night of terrible loss has not defined my life, it has had impact beyond measure.

And what I do know is that Mr. Sirhan is not someone deserving of parole. I believe this despite last week’s recommendation by the Los Angeles County parole board’s two-member panel to consider his release.

For prisoners sentenced to life, parole is based on evidence of their suitability for release — and to a significant degree, that means evidence of rehabilitation. At the time of the assassination, Mr. Sirhan admitted his guilt. At the time of the trial, he moved to plead guilty to murder in the first degree. Yet, across the decades that followed, right up through last week, he has not been willing to accept responsibility for his act and has shown little remorse. At his previous parole hearing, in 2016, when asked by Commissioner Brian Roberts to explain how he was involved in the murder, Mr. Sirhan replied, “I was there, and I supposedly shot a gun.”

The commissioner kept pressing: “I’m asking you to tell me what you believe you’re responsible for.”

Mr. Sirhan replied: “It’s a good question. Legally speaking, I’m not guilty of anything.”

Again, this was in 2016. He was 71 years old and had been incarcerated for 48 years. That he was, of course, denied parole, is easy to understand. And so my question is: What in the intervening five years has changed? We know that one or two laws have changed (as we’ve seen, they frequently do), maybe some attitudes have changed, and Mr. Sirhan is a few years older. For a dash of color, news reports consistently mention his snow white hair, as if somehow that indicates he’s no longer a threat.

But as last Friday’s parole hearing made clear, his suitability for release has not changed. According to Julie Watson, an Associated Press reporter present, Mr. Sirhan still maintains that he does not recall the killing and that “it pains me to experience that, the knowledge for such a horrible deed, if I did in fact do that.” If? How can you express remorse while refusing to accept responsibility? And how, having committed one of the most notorious assassinations of the latter part of the 20th century, can you be considered rehabilitated when you won’t even acknowledge your role in the crime itself?

Yet last week’s parole commissioner, Robert Barton, found a way. Although the official transcripts have not yet been released, he is reported as telling Mr. Sirhan, “We did not find that your lack of taking complete responsibility” for the shooting indicates that you are “currently dangerous.”

Read the entire thing.

Here’s hoping her words do not fall on deaf ears.

About the author

Picture of David Lange

David Lange

A law school graduate, David Lange transitioned from work in the oil and hi-tech industries into fulltime Israel advocacy. He is a respected commentator and Middle East analyst who has often been cited by the mainstream media
Picture of David Lange

David Lange

A law school graduate, David Lange transitioned from work in the oil and hi-tech industries into fulltime Israel advocacy. He is a respected commentator and Middle East analyst who has often been cited by the mainstream media
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