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Bobby Kennedy Jr. leads effort to free his father’s killer, Sirhan Sirhan; his siblings are appalled

Robert Kennedy family at gravesite in 1968

… Mercy or retribution? Still a dilemma

I still remember the morning that I learned of the assassination of Bobby Kennedy, who was running for president in 1968. I stopped in a small store in my town on my way to a final exam at Penn State’s Altoona Campus.

There I saw on the TV something that had happened during the night. Bobby Kennedy had been killed by a Middle Eastern man, later identified as Sirhan Sirhan. No logical reason was ever given by the assassin, who says today that he does not recall the assassination.

However, the children of Bobby Kennedy do remember the killing, and six of them were appalled when Sirhan was granted parole for the killing.

Even worse, their relationship with their father’s namesake, Bobby Kennedy Jr., was further devastated by his efforts to give parole to their father’s killer.

Parole board action

The California Parole Board announced the vote to free Sirhan on Friday, but it must be approved by the California governor,

California’s parole board voted Friday to free Robert F. Kennedy’s assassin after two of RFK’s sons went against several of their siblings’ wishes and said they supported releasing him and prosecutors declined to argue he should be kept behind bars. But the governor ultimately will decide if Sirhan Sirhan leaves prison …

Six of Kennedy’s nine surviving children said they were shocked by the vote and urged Gov. Gavin Newsom to reverse the parole board’s decision and keep Sirhan behind bars.

“He took our father from our family and he took him from America,” the six siblings wrote in a statement late Friday. “We are in disbelief that this man would be recommended for release.

The statement was signed by Joseph P. Kennedy II, Courtney Kennedy, Kerry Kennedy, Christopher G. Kennedy, Maxwell T. Kennedy and Rory Kennedy.

Julie Watson and Brian Melley, “RFK assassin moves closer to freedom with help of 2 Kennedys,” Associated Press, August 27, 2021

Joy of victory before the tragedy

Bobby Jr. believes Sirhan was not the killer

Bobby Kennedy Jr. has been anathema to much of his family in recent years because of his opposition to vaccines, including the Covid one that is being used to end the pandemic.

However, the third of the Kennedy children had written a letter to the parole board supporting Sirhan’s desire to be released,

But another sibling, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., has spoken in favor of his release in the past and wrote in favor of paroling Sirhan. He said in the letter that he met him in prison and was moved by Sirhan, “who wept, clinching my hands, and asked for forgiveness.”

“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,” he said in a letter submitted during the hearing to the board.

Julie Watson and Brian Melley, Associated Press, August 27, 2021

His brother, Doug, also sent a letter to the parole board asking for Sirhan's release.

Visited Sirhan in 2018

Bobby Jr. visited with Sirhan in 2018 in a widely reported meeting with his father’s killer who was convicted of the crime. In fact, former Penn State and L.A. Ram’s defensive lineman Rosey Grier wrestled the gun away from Sirhan, but the controversial namesake does not believe that Sirhan was his father’s killer,

Just before Christmas, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. pulled up to the massive Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility, a California state prison complex in the desert outside San Diego that holds nearly 4,000 inmates. Kennedy was there to visit Sirhan B. Sirhan, the man convicted of killing his father, Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, nearly 50 years ago.

While his wife, the actress Cheryl Hines, waited in the car, Kennedy met with Sirhan for three hours, he revealed to The Washington Post last week. It was the culmination of months of research by Kennedy into the assassination, including speaking with witnesses and reading the autopsy and police reports.

“I got to a place where I had to see Sirhan,” Kennedy said. He would not discuss the specifics of their conversation. But when it was over, Kennedy had joined those who believe there was a second gunman, and that it was not Sirhan who killed his father.

“I went there because I was curious and disturbed by what I had seen in the evidence,” said Kennedy, an environmental lawyer and the third oldest of his father’s 11 children. “I was disturbed that the wrong person might have been convicted of killing my father. My father was the chief law enforcement officer in this country. I think it would have disturbed him if somebody was put in jail for a crime they didn’t commit.”

Tom Jackman, “Who killed Bobby Kennedy? His son, RFK, Jr.,

doesn’t believe it was Sirhan Sirhan,” June 5, 2018

The son is not the only one who doubts that Sirhan was the killer despite the evidence to the contrary.

Sirhan, now 77, has said that he cannot remember doing it,

Though Sirhan admitted at his trial in 1969 that he shot Kennedy, he claimed from the start that he had no memory of doing so. And midway through Sirhan’s trial, prosecutors provided his lawyers with an autopsy report that launched five decades of controversy: Kennedy was shot at point-blank range from behind, including a fatal shot behind his ear. But Sirhan, a 24-year-old Palestinian immigrant, was standing in front of him.

Tom Jackman, Washington Post, June 5, 2018

Sirhan Sirhan today


The ultimate decision is up to Gov. Gavin Newsom, and he could reverse it. He is up for a recall election this fall, so that could happen.

The question is whether this is an act of mercy or one that is appalling since it was one of the worst political assassinations of the 20th Century.

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