Gov. Gavin Newsom rejected parole Thursday for Sirhan Sirhan, who assassinated Sen. Robert F. Kennedy in 1968 at Los Angeles’ Ambassador Hotel.
A two-person state parole panel in August recommended that Sirhan be released from the Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility in Otay Mesa in San Diego County, but the governor wrote that he disagreed with the finding that the 77-year-old inmate was suitable for parole.
“The gravity of Mr. Sirhan’s crimes alone counsels against his release,” the governor wrote in his decision. “But 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 wrote that “the most glaring evidence of Mr. Sirhan’s deficient insight is his shifting narrative about his assassination of Senator Kennedy, and his current refusal to accept responsibility for his crimes.”
In a statement released shortly after the governor’s decision was announced, the senator’s widow, Ethel, and six of the couple’s children wrote that they were “grateful to California Governor Gavin Newsom, and deeply relieved by his decision to deny parole to the killer of Robert F. Kennedy.”
“A little over 53 years ago, our family gathered for its first Christmas without our beloved husband and father. Six months earlier, one man killed him in plain view of his wife, friends, staff, journalists and photographers. Eleven children were left without a father, their mother without her husband — and our nation deprived of a unique leader,” the family said in the statement.
Kennedy’s youngest son, Douglas, spoke in favor of Sirhan’s release during the parole hearing last summer, and Robert F. Kennedy Jr. also sent a letter to the board in support of parole.
The Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office did not send a representative to the hearing. District Attorney George Gascon has set a policy against attending parole hearings for defendants who have served lengthy prison sentences beyond the required minimum term. His office took the position that the parole board has all the information it needs to decide if an inmate is suitable for release.
A Palestinian from Jordan, Sirhan was initially sentenced to death, but it was later commuted to life in prison after the state Supreme Court declared capital punishment unconstitutional in 1972.