Robert F Kennedy’s killer loses 15th parole bid
Witness in 1969 trial of Sirhan Sirhan tells convicted killer: ‘I’m so sorry . . . It’s my fault’
Sirhan Sirhan reacts during a parole hearing on Wednesday in San Diego: he was denied parole after telling a board he could not remember shooting Robert F Kennedy and was therefore unable to confess. Photograph: Gregory Bull/AP Photo
The convicted killer of senator Robert F Kennedy has been denied parole for the 15th time after telling a board that he could not remember shooting John F Kennedy’s brother in 1968 and was therefore unable to confess.
In emotional scenes a witness in the 1969 trial of Sirhan Sirhan came forward at the hearing to call for the convicted man’s release. Paul Schrade, now 91, who was also shot at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles, told Sirhan: “I’m so sorry this is happening to you. It’s my fault.”
Parole commissioners, however, were unmoved. “This crime impacted the nation, and I daresay it impacted the world,” commissioner Brian Roberts said. “It was a political assassination of a viable Democratic presidential candidate.”
Their decision came after Sirhan answered questions from a California parole panel during a hearing that lasted more than three hours in a small, windowless conference room.
Commissioners concluded Sirhan did not show adequate remorse or understand the enormity of his crime.
During the hearing, the 71-year-old Sirhan stuck to his previous account that he did not remember the shooting, which took place after Kennedy won the Democratic presidential primary in California.
He said he recalled being in the hotel then going to his car and returning after realising he had drunk too much. He said he became interested in a woman and they drank coffee in a hotel pantry.
“It’s all vague now,” Sirhan told the parole panel. “I’m sure you all have it in your records, I can’t deny it or confirm it, I just wish this whole thing had never taken place.”
Sirhan, a native of Jerusalem, listened intently during most of the hearing, turning testy when commissioners pressed him on his memory. He said he felt remorse for any crime victim but added that he couldn’t take responsibility for the shooting.
“If you want a confession, I can’t make it now,” Sirhan said. “Legally speaking I’m not guilty of anything.
“It’s not that I’m making light of it. I’m responsible for being there.”
Sirhan said incriminating statements he made at trial were the result of an ineffective defence attorney who pressured him into thinking he was guilty.
The two men faced each other for the first time since Mr Schrade testified at Sirhan’s 1969 trial.
Mr Schrade told the panel that he believed Sirhan shot him at the hotel but an unidentified second shooter killed Kennedy.
Mr Schrade was alongside the candidate when five people were injured in the June 5th shooting. Mr Schrade was shot in the head.
The two men faced each other at the parole hearing for the first time since Mr Schrade testified at Sirhan’s 1969 trial.
Mr Schrade pleaded for the release of Sirhan at the hearing and apologised to him for not doing more over the years to secure his freedom.
Mr Schrade’s voice broke with emotion at times during his hour of testimony that recounted his efforts to unravel questions about the shooting.
“I forgive you for shooting me,” Mr Schrade told Sirhan. “I should have been here long ago and that’s why I feel guilty for not being here to help you and to help me.”
Mr Schrade was western regional director of the United Auto Workers Union and labour chair of Kennedy’s campaign at the time of the shooting.
On Wednesday, Sirhan nodded politely each time Mr Schrade sought his forgiveness.
Mr Schrade showed flashes of anger against Mr Roberts, the parole commissioner, who admonished him for violating protocol by addressing Sirhan directly.
Mr Schrade also criticised a representative of the Los Angeles county district attorney’s office for making what Mr Schrade called a “venomous” statement against the release of Sirhan.
Mr Roberts at one point asked Mr Schrade to wrap up his presentation, saying: “Quite frankly, you’re losing us”.
“I think you have been lost for a long time,” Mr Schrade shot back.
Earlier in the hearing the commissioner asked if anyone wanted a break. Mr Schrade spoke up from the audience and said: “No I want this to get over, I find it very abusive.”
Retired deputy district attorney David Dahle argued at the hearing for the district attorney’s office. “The prisoner has still not come to grips with what he has done,” Mr Dahle told the panel.
Sirhan is serving a life sentence that was commuted from death when the California supreme court briefly outlawed capital punishment in 1972.
In one of many emotional outbursts during his 1969 trial, Sirhan blurted out that he had committed the crime with 20 years of malice aforethought. That and his declaration when arrested – “I did it for my country” – were his only relevant comments before he said he didn’t remember shooting Kennedy.
Sirhan told the panel on Wednesday that if released he hoped he would be deported to Jordan or live with his brother in Pasadena, California.
His hope, he said, was “just to live out my life peacefully, in harmony with my fellow man”.
“This is such a traumatic experience, it’s a horrendous experience that for me to keep dwelling on it is harmful to me,” Sirhan said.
As Sirhan left the hearing, Mr Schrade shouted: “Sirhan, I’m so sorry this is happening to you. It’s my fault.”
Sirhan tried to shake his hand but a guard prevented it.
– (Guardian service)