Jordanian immigrant Sirhan Bashira Sirhan is taken into custody following the shooting of Sen. Robert Kennedy on June 5, 1968, in Los Angeles, right after the Senator’s victory speech in the presidential primaries held in California. On Thursday, California Gov. Gavin Newsom denied the parole board's recommendation for his release. File Photo by Ron Bennett/UPI | License Photo
Jan. 13 (UPI) -- California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Thursday reversed the state parole board's decision to grant parole to Sirhan Sirhan, the man convicted of killing Robert F. Kennedy more than 50 years ago, saying he remains a threat to society.
Sirhan was convicted and originally sentenced to death but was commuted to life in prison for fatally shooting Sen. Robert Kennedy, the former attorney general under his brother, President John F. Kennedy, on June 5, 1968, at the Los Angeles Ambassador Hotel. Five bystanders were also shot, all of whom survived.
The presidential hopeful was slain in front of his family, friends and media after winning the California Democratic presidential primary, and his death sent shockwaves across the nation still reeling from the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. nine weeks earlier and that of his brother while a sitting president in 1963.
After more than five decades in jail, Sirhan was recommend for parole in late August during his 16th hearing that was absent a prosecutor for the first time following the abolishment of the longstanding practice for one to appear at parole hearings to argue against the release of inmates.
Newsom said he decided to reverse the parole board's decision following an extensive review of Sirhan's case, finding he "poses an unreasonable danger to society."
Sirhan, 77, refuses to accept responsibility for his crime, fails to disclaim violence committed in his name and has not done enough to mitigate his risk factors, Newsome said.
"After decades in prison, Mr. Sirhan has failed to address the deficiencies that led him to assassinate Sen. Kennedy," Newsom wrote in the order. "Mr. Sirhan lacks the insight that would prevent him from making the same types of dangerous decisions he made in the past."
As evidence, Newsom pointed to Sirhan's "shifting narrative" of the crime as he stated in court that he killed Robert Kennedy to telling a board psychologist that he didn't intend to commit homicide but only sought attention to "the plight of his fellow countrymen." In a 1985 parole hearing, he blamed alcohol for the crimes and in 2021, portrayed himself the victim of being "in the wrong spot at the wrong time," the order states.
The shooting coincided on the one-year anniversary of the Six-Day War, and he has said he committed the crime in objection to Kennedy's support of Israel.
In an op-ed published Thursday in the Los Angeles Times, Newsom explained Sirhan remains a potent symbol of political violence and in the past terrorists have taken hostages, some of whom were killed, in his name -- acts Sirhan has not tried to distance himself from.
"Recently Sirhan laughingly dismissed the current relevance of his status as an ideological lightning rod," Newsom wrote in the paper. "He does not understand, let alone have the skills to manage, the complex risks of his self-created notoriety. He cannot be safely released from prison because he has not mitigated his risk of fomenting further political violence."
The family of Robert Kennedy issued a statement of gratitude for Newsom's decision to deny parole, stating without identifying Sirhan by name that he must "transform himself" and that time alone is not a measure of rehabilitation for premeditated murder.
They said the pain of reliving Robert Kennedy's last moments is "simply unbearable" and instead of contrition Sirhan seems to suggest the time he has spent in jail is enough punishment for his crimes.
"The political passions that motivated this inmate's act still simmer today, and his refusal to admit the truth makes it impossible to conclude that he has overcome the evil that boiled over 53 years ago," they said. "After decades in prison for a horrific crime, it is difficult to imagine that he ever will. He remains a danger to public safety and must continue to be incarcerated for the protection of the community."