Robert F. Kennedy's Assassin Granted Parole After Late Senator's Sons Spoke in Favor of Release

Sirhan Bushara Sirhan was convicted of first-degree murder of Sen. Robert F. Kennedy in 1969

Robert F. Kennedy and Sirhan Bishara Sirhan
Robert F. Kennedy (left) and Sirhan Sirhan. Photo: getty (2)

Sirhan Bushara Sirhan, the convicted murderer of Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, has been granted parole 53 years after the assassination.

The decision, which is subject to the governor's review before it takes effect, was made during Sirhan's 16th parole hearing on Friday after two of Kennedy's sons spoke in favor of his release, the Associated Press reports.

"I'm overwhelmed just by being able to view Mr. Sirhan face-to-face," said Douglas Kennedy, who was a toddler when his father died in 1968. "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."

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Robert F. Kennedy Jr. wrote in favor of parole, while Paul Schrade — a friend of the late senator who was wounded in the shooting — also spoke in favor of his release, the AP reports.

"I would never put myself in jeopardy again," Sirhan said, according to the AP, during the parole hearing. "You have my pledge. I will always look to safety and peace and non-violence."

Sirhan Sirhan

The California Parole Board now has 90 days to review the ruling before it is passed on to the governor for consideration.

A spokesperson for the parole board and an attorney for Sirhan did not immediately respond to PEOPLE's request for comment.

Prosecutors did not attend the parole hearing or argue against Sirhan's release under a new policy from Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón, who implemented criminal justice reforms when he took office in December, The New York Times reports.

"The role of a prosecutor and their access to information ends at sentencing," Alex Bastian, special advisor to Gascón, told AP in a statement on Thursday.

Six of Kennedy's children went on to release a statement on Friday, sharing that they are "devastated that the man who murdered our father has been recommended for parole."

"We adamantly oppose the parole and release of Sirhan Sirhan and we are shocked by a ruling that we believe ignores the standards for parole of a confessed, first-degree murderer in the state of California," read a statement shared on Kerry Kennedy's Instagram, which was also signed by Joseph P. Kennedy II, Courtney Kennedy, Christopher G. Kennedy, Maxwell T. Kennedy and Rory Kennedy.

"We urge the Parole Board staff, the full Board, and ultimately, Governor Newsom, to reverse this initial recommendation. It is a recommendation we intent to challenge every step of the way, and we hope that those who also hold the memory of our late father in their hearts will stand with us," the statement continued.

Robert F Kennedy
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty

Sen. Kennedy, who had served as the 64th attorney general before being elected, was mortally wounded in a shooting while leaving a campaign event for his presidency at the ballroom at The Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles.

According to an Evening Journal report from the time, he died at age 42 at "1:44 a.m., PDT, little more than 25 hours after the assault at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles."

Sirhan was convicted of first-degree murder in 1969 and was sentenced to death. However, his sentence was commuted to life in prison three years later when the California Supreme Court outlawed capital punishment.

"We can't change the past, but he was not sentenced to life without the possibility of parole," Sirhan's attorney, Angela Berry, told the AP on Thursday. "To justify denying it based on the gravity of the crime and the fact that it disenfranchised millions of Americans is ignoring the rehabilitation that has occurred and that rehabilitation is a more relevant indicator of whether or not a person is still a risk to society."

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