Convicted Assassin Sirhan Sirhan's Parole Decision Leaves Robert F. Kennedy's Children 'Devastated,' Divided

Six of the slain presidential candidate's children expressed outrage over a California parole board's decision to release Sirhan Sirhan, the convicted killer of Robert F. Kennedy.

The children of Robert F. Kennedy say they are shocked and devastated by the surprise decision of a California parole board to release their father's confessed and convicted assassin, Sirhan Bushara Sirhan.

Kennedy had just claimed victory in California's 1968 Presidential primary when he was shot three times in a kitchen corridor of the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles. Mortally wounded, Kennedy died 26 hours later at Good Samaritan Hospital. The nation, still reeling from the assassination of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., just two months before, plunged farther into despair.

Kennedy's brother, President John F. Kennedy, was shot to death in 1963.

Sirhan Sirhan, a 24-year-old Palestinian Arab, was tackled and disarmed by journalists and Kennedy bodyguards in the crowded and chaotic hallway as the 42-year-old Democratic senator of New York lay bleeding on the floor. Sirhan was convicted and sentenced to death in 1969. His sentence was commuted to life in prison in 1972, after California outlawed capital punishment.

Friday's unexpected decision to grant parole to the now 77-year-old Sirhan drew an anguished response from six of Kennedy's nine surviving children.

"As children of Robert F. Kennedy, we are devastated that the man who murdered our father has been recommended for parole," a statement posted on Instagram began. "Our father's death is a very difficult matter for us to discuss publicly and for the past many decades we have declined to engage directly in the parole process."

The online letter was signed by Kerry Kennedy, Joseph P. Kennedy II, Courtney Kennedy, Christopher G. Kennedy, Maxwell T. Kennedy and Rory Kennedy, who said they were "shocked" and "devastated" by the board's affirmative ruling on Sirhan's 16th petition for parole. He has been behind maximum security bars for more than 52 years.

"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," the siblings wrote. "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."

Even Sirhan was shocked by the decision, his attorney said, noting the inmate was in "disbelief" over being granted parole by a board panel. 

In a statement issued Sunday, Kennedy's eldest son, former congressman Joseph P. Kennedy II, condemned the decision.

“Two commissioners of the 18-member California Parole Board made a grievous error last Friday in recommending the release of the man who murdered my father," Kennedy wrote. “I understand that there are differing views about ending the sentence of this killer, including within my own family. But emotions and opinions do not change facts or history." 

But another Kennedy sibling, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., has supported Sirhan's quest for parole. Writing to the board, Kennedy said he had met his father's killer in prison and was moved by the man, "who wept, clinching my hands, and asked for forgiveness."

In announcing its decision, the parole board noted that Sirhan no longer poses a threat to society and had participated in more than 20 programs including anger management classes, Tai Chi and Alcoholics Anonymous.

The board's full staff has four months to review the decision before forwarding it to Gov. Gavin Newsom, who then has 30 days to grant, reverse or modify the ruling.

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

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