On Wednesday, Sirhan B. Sirhan, the assassin of Democratic presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy in 1968, was denied parole for the 15th time, a California prison official said.
Sirhan, 71, attended his suitability hearing at the Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility near San Diego, the California Board of Parole Hearings said on its website.
“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.” said Luis Patino, a spokesman for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. Sirhan will be up for parole again in five years.
Sirhan has already spent half a century behind bars. He is Palestinian born and is serving a life sentence for fatally shooting Kennedy, 42, at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles on June 5, 1968. The shooting occurred minutes after the U.S. senator from New York and former U.S. attorney general gave his victory speech after winning the California Democratic primary. Kennedy died the following day.
Kennedy’s older brother, President John F. Kennedy, was assassinated in 1963.
Sirhan was sentenced to death in 1969. His sentence was commuted from death to life in prison when the California Supreme Court briefly outlawed capital punishment in 1972.
Paul Schrade, a 91-year-old Kennedy confidant and among the five people wounded in the shooting, appeared for the first time at a Sirhan parole hearing. He told the board that Sirhan should be granted parole because evidence showed that a second gunman killed Kennedy.
“The evidence clearly shows you were not the gunman who shot Robert Kennedy,” Schrade said in remarks prepared for the hearing.
Sirhan fired in front of Kennedy but the candidate was struck in the back by three bullets, including a fatal shot to the back of the head, Schrade said.
An analysis of an audio recording shows that 13 shots were fired, but Sirhan’s gun held only eight rounds and he had no chance to reload, Schrade said.
Schrade alleged misconduct in the investigation by the Los Angeles Police Department and called for a new probe of Kennedy’s killing.
Schrade forgave Sirhan and repeatedly apologized for not doing more to win his release.
Schrade’s voice broke with emotion during the hour-long testimony on his efforts to unravel mysteries and questions about the events of June 5, 1968. The 91-year-old former labor leader said he believed Sirhan shot him but that the second unidentified shooter felled Kennedy.
“I forgive you for shooting me,” 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.”
The men faced each other for the first time since Schrade testified at Sirhan’s 1969 trial. Schrade apologized for not going to any of Sirhan’s 14 previous parole hearings.
As Sirhan left, Schrade shouted, “Sirhan, I’m so sorry this is happening to you. It’s my fault.”
Sirhan, who had nodded politely when the victim addressed him, tried to shake hands with Schrade but he was blocked by a guard.
On last year, a federal judge rejected similar arguments by Sirhan’s lawyers, who had sought to have him released, saying he was innocent.
Sirhan has maintained for years that he doesn’t remember shooting Kennedy, although he has also said he had fired at Kennedy because he was enraged by his support for Israel.
“If you want a confession, I can’t make it now,” Sirhan said at the hearing Wednesday. “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 told the panel that if released, he hoped he would be deported to Jordan or would 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.
At his last parole hearing in 2011, parole commissioners said Sirhan had not shown enough remorse or understanding of the severity of his crime and he was denied.
Sirhan is serving his sentence at a prison near San Diego. He was moved to the Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility on Nov. 22, 2013 — the 50th anniversary of JFK’s assassination. State prison officials said the timing of that move was a coincidental..