By Cres Vellucci
Vanguard Sacramento Bureau Chief
SACRAMENTO, CA – California Gov. Gavin Newsom Thursday announced 24 pardons – but denied parole for Sirhan Sirhan, the convicted murderer of presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy in June 1968 after the U.S. Senator had won the California Democratic Primary and seemingly was well on his way to becoming the next U.S. President.
Sirhan, who has denied he killed Kennedy and was recommended by the Board of Parole Hearings for parole in 2021, has been described by some critics and criminologists for decades as a “patsy” who was framed by any one of dark culprits, from corporate and/or pro-military U.S. forces to Howard Hughes and cohorts.
None of this has been proven beyond a doubt, and Sirhan has languished in prison – his death sentence commuted in 1972.
Most historians surmise that if Kennedy – whose brother John Kennedy was assassinated in 1963 when he was U.S. President – had become president that the Vietnam War may have ended, and 50,000 Americans may not have died in the Southeast Asian conflict. Kennedy’s death virtually guaranteed millions of Americans would go off to die or be injured, many with long lasting illnesses even today.
Gov. Newsom, who said he completed an “extensive” review of the Sirhan case, overturned the parole board because Sirhan wouldn’t accept guilt, and failed to disclaim violence committed in his name, among other reasons
“Mr. Sirhan’s assassination of Senator Kennedy is among the most notorious crimes in American history,” said the governor, adding, “After decades in prison, he has failed to address the deficiencies that led him to assassinate Senator Kennedy. Mr. Sirhan lacks the insight that would prevent him from making the same types of dangerous decisions he made in the past.
“Mr. Sirhan’s assassination of Senator Kennedy is among the most notorious crimes in American history. Senator Kennedy’s murder caused his family immeasurable suffering, including his pregnant wife, their ten children, and the extended Kennedy family,” said Newsom.
He added, “Mr. Sirhan’s crimes also caused great harm to the American people. Senator Kennedy’s assassination upended the 1968 presidential election, leaving millions in the United States and beyond mourning the promise of his candidacy.”
Newsom noted particularly that “I have concluded that he is unsuitable for parole because he poses a current threat to public safety. After decades in prison, Mr. Sirhan has failed to address the deficiencies that led him to assassinate Senator Kennedy. Mr. Sirhan lacks the insight that would prevent him from making the same types of dangerous decisions he made in the past.”
The governor, in his statement denying Sirhan parole, said Sirhan wouldn’t “accept responsibility” for the crime and that he had confessed to police.
Newsom said evidence against Sirhan was “irrefutable,” and claims from authors, investigators and others were “conclusively disproved.”
Those claims that Sirhan did not kill Kennedy included theories ranging from “evidence” that many more bullets were fired than could have come from Sirhan’s gun, that RFK was shot from behind and Sirhan was in front of him, that the CIA didn’t want CIA-critic RFK to become President, among others.
Newsom noted that Sirhan repeatedly changed his story over the decades, from denial of the murder to claiming he was drunk or couldn’t remember the killing because of Kennedy’s support for military aid for Israel in the Middle East war.
The governor said it is “Mr. Sirhan’s implausible and unsupported denials of responsibility and lack of credibility elevate his current risk level. They indicate that Mr. Sirhan, despite decades of incarceration and purported efforts in rehabilitation, has failed to address the deficiencies that led him to assassinate Senator Kennedy.
“The record further demonstrates that Mr. Sirhan has not meaningfully disclaimed political violence—committed by him or in his name—nor shown that he appreciates the unique risks created by his commission of a political
assassination. These gaps in Mr. Sirhan’s insight have a close nexus to his current risk of inciting further political violence,” added Gov. Newsom.
The governor counteracted the parole board, which he said found Sirhan’s “professed intention not to be ‘a rebel or a troublemaker’ sufficient to mitigate this risk factor. I disagree. Not only has Mr. Sirhan failed to meaningfully disclaim political violence, he lacks the skills required to control his response to external triggers, which are critical for mitigating the public safety risk he poses.”
Newsom also criticized the parole board – not known to go easy on incarcerated individuals – for finding “Mr. Sirhan’s anger management skills are sufficient to manage the public safety challenges he would face on parole.
Here, too, I disagree.”
The governor did appear to admit “Mr. Sirhan has made some efforts to improve himself in prison through self-help programming and other prosocial efforts. While Mr. Sirhan has undoubtedly matured in some ways over the last 53 years, the record evidence shows that he has not internalized his rehabilitation programming sufficiently to reduce his risk for future dangerousness.”
But the governor concluded, “When considered as a whole, I find the evidence in the record demonstrates that Mr. Sirhan currently poses an unreasonable danger to society if released from prison. Despite his 53 years of incarceration, Mr. Sirhan has failed to develop the insight necessary to mitigate his current dangerousness and is unsuitable for parole.”