Man convicted of assassinating RFK to face parole board, Gascón's office won't attend

Sirhan Sirhan, the man convicted of assassinating Robert F. Kennedy in 1968, will appear before a parole board Friday, and for the first time, the Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón's office will not attend to either provide opposition or support for his release.

Sirhan Sirhan was sentenced to the death penalty in 1969 after being convicted in the assassination of Kennedy on June 5, 1968. That same day, the popular politician won the California Democratic Primary and gave a speech at the Ambassador Hotel before being shot multiple times, dying the next day at the hospital. 

However, in 1972, Sirhan's sentence was commuted to life in prison after California abolished the death penalty.

Friday will mark the 16th time Sirhan Sirhan has appeared in front of a parole board to discuss a possible release, but Los Angeles County prosecutors will be absent following orders from District Attorney George Gascón, who campaigned on and implemented sweeping criminal justice reforms. Part of his reforms include ending the policy which sent prosecutors to parole hearings to argue against releasing inmates early.

The District Attorney's Office sent a brief statement to FOX 11:

"The role of a prosecutor and their access to information ends at sentencing," Alex Bastian, special advisor to Gascón.

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However, former prosecutor Kathy Cady, who now works with victim's families, disagrees.

"It's absurd, and they're [the District Attorney's office] wrong. That has never been when the role of a prosecutor ends. Not having a prosecutor attend [Sirhan's parole hearing] is really an abandonment of his [Gascón] responsibilities," said Cady. 

Cady believes the case should be carefully reviewed. 

"Unfortunately, there are people who are 77 years old who have gone on to commit murder so the fact that he is older does not automatically mean that he will not. The fact that Mr. Gascón can't be bothered to find out how he's [Sirhan] been behaving in custody and then come up with an opinion about whether or not he should be paroled is just outrageous," she said.

Tim Harrell, a longtime journalist who witnessed the shooting, shares his account. 

"I was working for KLAC radio which was a part of Metro Media Broadcasting company that was trying to get their own network going," he said.

Harrell was at the Ambassador Hotel to report on election night with the Kennedy supporters when he later witnessed the assassination. 

"There was a little bit of a commotion and then I saw Sirhan just kind of step. He wasn't fully out there. He stuck his hand out and he fired and all hell broke loose. The crowd was yelling and screaming and he still had the gun in his hand," said Harrell. 

Harrell went on air as soon as he was able to get back to the station to report the news. 

"It was surreal. I was a journalist for 53 years [and people have asked me] what was the most exciting, most important story you've covered and I've covered a lot of them and it's the Kennedy assassination because you're an eyewitness to history. It's something that always stays with you," he said. 

Harrell does not see any harm in releasing Sirhan who is now 77 years old.

"It's been 50 years. I can't see him re-offending. I don't see that letting him out on parole would be dangerous. I don't see any reason to keep the man incarcerated. You're not talking about somebody who's a repeat offender with a long rap sheet. He's not going to go out and assassinate anybody else I don't think," said Harrell. 

Sirhan is a Palestinian immigrant who was born in Jerusalem in 1944. He then moved to the United States with his family and lived in California. He later stated he killed Robert Kennedy because the senator had supported Israel in the Arab-Israeli war of 1967.

The parole hearing for Sirhan is Friday at 8:30 a.m. via video conference.