And the decision was supported by two of Kennedy's children.
On Friday, August 27, California Parole Board granted parole to Robert F. Kennedy's assassin, Sirhan Bushara Sirhan, after over 52 years of life in prison. Sirhan was convicted of assassinating Kennedy on April 17, 1969, and sentenced six days later to death by gas chamber. Three years later, his sentence was commuted to life in prison after the California Supreme Court ruled that capital punishment was in violation of the California Constitution's prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.
Friday was Sirhan's 16th parole hearing and the first time state prosecutors did not oppose his release. The decision to grant his parole was ultimately swayed by the support of two of Kennedy's sons, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and Douglas Kennedy.
Douglas was only a toddler when his father was murdered at Los Angeles' Ambassador Hotel on June 5, 1968. He told the two-person parole board that Sirhan's remorse moved him to tears and stated that the 77-year-old man posed no threat to the public.
"I'm overwhelmed just by being able to view Mr. Sirhan face to face," Douglas said. "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."
Robert Jr. met Sirhan in December 2017 just before the 50th anniversary of his father's assassination. They spoke for three hours and Robert Jr. has been a public advocate for Sirhan's release ever since.
"The two sat together. They held hands. I mean, they were face-to-face. Sirhan cried. Robert Jr. accepted his apology," said Sirhan's attorney, Angela Barry. "At that point, Robert Jr. was convinced that there is way more to the story than what came out at trial and that there could be a second gunman, and he has been on Sirhan's side since."
Robert Jr. wrote a letter to the parole board acknowledging his support for Sirhan's release.
"While nobody can speak definitively on behalf of my father, I firmly believe that based on his own consuming commitment to fairness and justice, that he would strongly encourage this board to release Mr. Sirhan because of Sirhan’s impressive record of rehabilitation,” Robert Jr.'s letter read.
Although the touching testimonies of the two children helped move the board towards parole, the rest of Kennedy's six children did not feel the same way.
"We are devastated that the man who murdered our father has been recommended for parole," the six children wrote in a statement issued on Friday. "He took our father from our family and he took him from America. … We are in disbelief that this man would be recommended for release."
The statement was signed by Joseph P. Kennedy II, Christopher G. Kennedy, Courtney Kennedy, Kerry Kennedy, Maxwell T. Kennedy, and Rory Kennedy.
Sirhan has consistently stated that he was drunk and could not remember the shooting. When the parole board granted parole, he thanked them and gave them a thumbs up. However, the board's decision does not mean Sirhan will be automatically released. Over the next 120 days, the ruling will be reviewed by the board's staff. Then, Calfornia Governor Gavin Newsom will have the final say. He will have 30 days to decide whether to grant the decision, reverse it, or modify it.
The six children who are opposed to Sirhan's release are urging the board and the Governor to reverse the ruling.
"It is a recommendation we intend to challenge every step of the way," they said.
If the Governor approves the ruling, Sirhan must live in a transitional home for six months, enroll in an alcohol abuse program, and get therapy.
What do you think about the ruling? Let us know in the comments.