Six children of assassinated US Senator Robert F Kennedy have condemned the decision to grant parole to the man who was convicted of killing their father 53 years ago.
But two of their siblings have supported the man’s release.
Sirhan Sirhan, 77, was recommended by a California parole board for release from prison on Friday, after a review of his record since being convicted of the murder of Senator ‘Bobby’ Kennedy.
He arrived at the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation in May 1969, having been convicted of first-degree murder and assault with intent to murder.
Sirhan killed Senator Kennedy on a presidential campaign stop in June 1968.
“He took our father from our family and he took him from America,” the six children said in a statement late on Saturday.
“We are in disbelief that this man would be recommended for release.”
Two children of the late Kennedy, Kerry and Rory, shared the statement on Twitter, which was signed by four of their siblings, Christopher G Kennedy, Maxwell Kennedy, Joseph Kennedy II and Courtney Kennedy.
“Given today’s unexpected recommendation by the California parole board after 15 previous decisions to deny release, we feel compelled to make our position clear,” it continues.
“We adamantly oppose the parole and release of Sirhan Sirhan and are shocked by a ruling that we believe ignores the standards for parole of a confessed, first-degree murderer in the state of California.”
But two of the Senator’s children, Douglas Kennedy and Robert F Kennedy Jr, did not sign the statement and instead supported the decision.
“I’m overwhelmed just by being able to view Mr Sirhan face to face,” Douglas Kennedy said during the virtual hearing.
He was just a toddler when his father was shot and killed.
“I’ve lived my life both in fear of [Sirhan] 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,” he said.
Meanwhile, Robert F Kennedy Jr submitted a letter in advance of Friday’s hearing, saying he believed his father might extend mercy to Sirhan.
“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,” Mr Kennedy Jr said.
Two commissioners made the recommendation on Sirhan’s 16th attempt at parole, after changes to the law in 2018 required the board to take into consideration Sirhan’s childhood trauma growing up in the Middle East, his advanced years, and his committing the murder at a young age.
The board insisted Sirhan no longer posed a threat to society.
Featuring in court by video conference from a San Diego prison, Sirhan insisted he does not remember committing the first-degree murder due to drinking beforehand.
Sirhan was 24 years old when he was sentenced to death before being commuted to life in prison.
“Senator Kennedy was the hope of the world … and I harmed all of them and it pains me to experience that, the knowledge for such a horrible deed, if I did, in fact, do that,” he said.
The ruling is not final. It will be reviewed over 120 days before being sent to California Governor Gavin Newsom, who will then have another 30 days to decide whether to grant or reverse it.
How America reacted to Bobby Kennedy’s death
Robert F Kennedy, also known as Bobby Kennedy, was assassinated while campaigning for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination on June 5, 1968.
At the time, he had just won a crucial California primary, having captured the hearts of many US citizens in the years after his brother John F Kennedy’s assassination.
He was killed on his way from a stage at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles, bringing an end to his brief 82-day campaign.
It was a time of great social upheaval, with Americans bitterly divided over the Vietnam War and race relations worsening.
Two months before his death, civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr was assassinated on April 4.
Robert F Kennedy is remembered for his advocation of civil rights movements and his opposition to US involvement in Vietnam.
Millions of people came to see the 21-carriage train carrying 700 passengers and the body of the presidential candidate from New York to Washington DC, while 2000 people attended a requiem mass at St Patrick’s Cathedral in New York on June 8.