A California parole-board panel voted on Friday to grant parole to Sirhan Sirhan, the man convicted of assassinating Senator Robert F. Kennedy in 1968.
The 77-year-old won parole on his 16th attempt after spending 53 years in prison. State prosecutors did not object to his release, and two of Kennedy’s sons, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and Douglas Kennedy, expressed support for Sirhan.
“I’m overwhelmed just by being able to view Mr. Sirhan face to face. I think I’ve lived my life both in fear of him and his name in one way or another. And I am grateful today to see him as a human being worthy of compassion and love,” said Douglas Kennedy.
“I really do believe any prisoner who is found to be not a threat to themselves or the world should be released,” he said, according to the Associated Press. “I believe that applies to everyone, every human being, including Mr. Sirhan. . . . I was very deeply moved by Mr. Sirhan’s expression of remorse, and at times it brought tears to my eyes and affected me very deeply.
The board ultimately found that Sirhan is no longer a threat to society, according to the Washington Post.
Sirhan’s lawyer successfully argued that the criteria of rehabilitation, remorse, and future dangerousness applied to all prisoners should also apply to Sirhan, regardless of his victim’s prominence.
“Over half a century has passed, and that young impulsive kid I was does not exist anymore. . . . Senator Kennedy was the hope of the world, and I injured, and I harmed all of them and it pains me to experience that, the knowledge for such a horrible deed,” Sirhan told the panel.
Kennedy was a Democratic presidential candidate when he was fatally shot at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles just after delivering a victory speech in the California presidential primary shortly after midnight on June 5, 1968.
Sirhan was convicted in April 1969 and sentenced to death, though his sentence was later commuted to life when the California Supreme Court briefly eliminated the death penalty.
The panel’s decision is set to be reviewed by the full parole board for 90 days before it is final. The decision then heads to the desk of the California governor to uphold the decision, reverse it, or send it back to the board.