California Governor Gavin Newsom has denied parole to Sirhan Sirhan, the Palestinian refugee serving a life sentence for assassinating US presidential candidate Robert F Kennedy in 1968.
Newsom made the announcement on Thursday after a California review board in August recommended Sirhan be released from prison, subject to review by the board’s legal staff and by the governor himself. He had previously been denied parole 15 times.
Outlining his decision in an opinion piece in the Los Angeles Times, Newsom said he disagreed with the Board of Parole Hearings finding that the 77-year-old was suitable for parole.
“After carefully reviewing the case, including records in the California State Archives, I have determined that Sirhan has not developed the accountability and insight required to support his safe release into the community,” Newsom wrote.
Sirhan’s lawyer, Angela Berry, suggested in a statement that Newsom had bowed to political considerations in denying her client parole.
“While I appreciate that the release of Mr Sirhan presents Governor Newsom with a challenging political calculation, the legal decision for his release is clear and straight forward. We are confident that the judicial review of the governor’s decision will show that the governor got it wrong,” Berry said.
Sirhan was convicted of gunning down Kennedy, 42, in the kitchen pantry of the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles on June 5, 1968.
The shooting occurred minutes after the US senator and former US attorney general gave his victory speech after winning the California Democratic primary. Kennedy died the next day. Kennedy’s older brother President John F Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas in 1963.
Sirhan has said he had no recollection of the killing of Robert Kennedy, although he has also said he fired at Kennedy because he was enraged by his support for Israel.
After the parole board issued its recommendation, Kennedy’s widow, Ethel, 93, voiced her opposition to Sirhan’s release, saying “our family and our country suffered an unspeakable loss due to the inhumanity of one man”.
Six of Kennedy’s nine surviving children also said they were shocked by the recommendation and urged Newsom to reverse the parole board’s decision.
Newsom pointed to what he called Sirhan’s “shifting narrative” over the killing and his refusal to take responsibility for it as proof he was ineligible for release.
Newsom added the assassination was “among the most notorious crimes in American history”.
Some of Kennedy’s children and others have called for a reinvestigation of the killing, believing there was a second shooter who got away.
Robert F Kennedy Jr, who has spoken in favour of Sirhan’s release in the past, wrote in favour of paroling Sirhan.
He said he met Sirhan in prison and was moved after he “wept clinching my hands and asked for forgiveness”.
Sirhan was sentenced to death in 1969, but his sentence was commuted to life in prison after California banned the death penalty.