Sen. Robert F. Kennedy’s assassin is facing his 16th parole hearing Friday — and for the first time, prosecutors will not fight to keep him behind bars.
Sirhan Sirhan, now 77, has lost 15 bids for freedom — with his last parole board in 2016 ruling that he had not shown remorse for the 1968 murder of the New York senator and brother of President John F. Kennedy.
But Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón announced that for the first time his office will not object to the release of Sihan, who has served 53 years in prison.
“The role of a prosecutor and their access to information ends at sentencing,” said Alex Bastian, a special adviser to Gascón.
Sirhan’s hearing will be presided over by a two-person panel that usually announces its decision the same day.
After that, the Parole Board staff has 90 days to review the decision, and then it is handed over to the governor for consideration.
The Parole Board would not say if the Kennedy family or anyone else submitted statements opposing Sirhan’s release.
Gascón, a former cop, said he reached the difficult decision to leave the decision to the parole board even though he admired Kennedy and knows Sirhan is “the kind of individual that we all like to hate.”
“I can get very emotionally wrapped around my personal feelings (about) someone that killed someone that I thought could have been an incredible president for this country,” Gascón said. “But that has no place in this process. Just like it doesn’t for the person nobody knows about.”
RFK was a Democratic presidential candidate when he was gunned down at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles moments after delivering a victory speech in the pivotal California primary.
Sirhan was sentenced to death after his conviction, but that sentence was commuted to life when the California Supreme Court briefly outlawed capital punishment in 1972.
At Sirhan’s last parole hearing in 2016, commissioners concluded after more than three hours of intense testimony that he did not show adequate remorse or understand the enormity of his crime.
Sirhan was 24 at the time of the assassination, and has repeatedly claimed to have no memory of the killing.
However, he has recalled events before the crime in detail — going to a shooting range that day, visiting the hotel in search of a party, and returning after realizing he was too drunk to drive.
He recalled drinking a coffee just before the assassination — claiming the next thing he remembered was being choked and unable to breathe as he was taken into custody. At his 2016 hearing, he said he felt remorse for any crime victim but couldn’t take responsibility for the shooting.
Sirhan’s new defense attorney, Angela Berry, said she plans to argue that the decision should be based on who Sirhan is today and not then. He has an exemplary prison record that shows he is not a danger, she said.
“We can’t change the past, but he was not sentenced to life without the possibility of parole,” Berry told the AP.
“To justify denying it based on the gravity of the crime and the fact that it disenfranchised millions of Americans is ignoring the rehabilitation that has occurred and that rehabilitation is a more relevant indicator of whether or not a person is still a risk to society.”
Berry said it was hard to predict what impact the prosecution’s absence would have on the outcome after Sirhan’s release has already been knocked down 15 times.
“I like to think it’ll make a difference. But I think everybody is not impervious to the fact that this is political,” she said.
With Post wires