Robert F. Kennedy’s widow, Ethel Kennedy, voiced opposition on Tuesday to a California review panel’s recommendation that the man serving a life term for assassinating her husband during his 1968 presidential campaign be released from prison on parole.
“Our family and our country suffered an unspeakable loss due to the inhumanity of one man,” Kennedy, 93, wrote. “We believe in the gentleness that spared his life, but in taming his act of violence, he should not have the opportunity to terrorize again.”
She concluded by printing in her own hand: “He should not be paroled. Ethel Kennedy.”
Her brief message was issued to the news media 11 days after a two-commissioner panel of the state Board of Parole Hearings concluded on Aug. 27 that the convicted assassin, Sirhan Sirhan, 77, is suitable for parole. It was the first time an initial review panel recommended his release.
The panel’s ruling is subject to a 120-day review by the board’s legal staff, during which the case may be referred to the full board for further evaluation.
California’s governor then has 30 days to reverse the decision or let it stand. That process would most likely put Sirhan’s fate in the hands of Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom, assuming he survives a Sept. 14 recall election.
If the governor takes no action, the inmate would be scheduled for release. Sirhan, a Palestinian refugee, has previously been denied parole 15 times.
Ethel Kennedy sided with six of her nine surviving children in publicly objecting to letting Sirhan go free. It marked the first time she has spoken out on the issue, according to one of her children cited by a family spokesperson.
Former U.S. Representative Joseph P. Kennedy II and five of his siblings – Courtney Kennedy, Kerry Kennedy, Christopher Kennedy, Maxwell Kennedy and Rory Kennedy – previously issued a joint statement saying they “adamantly oppose” Sirhan’s release and were “devastated” that he was recommended for parole.
They are reported to be at odds with two other siblings. Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who met with Sirhan in 2017, said in a letter to the parole board he should be released, according to the Los Angeles Times. Another son, Douglas Kennedy, attended the Aug. 27 hearing in support of Sirhan’s parole, the Times reported.
Sirhan was convicted of gunning down Robert Kennedy, 42, in Los Angeles on June 5, 1968, minutes after the U.S. senator from New York and former U.S. attorney general gave his victory speech on winning the California Democratic primary. Kennedy died the next day.
Sirhan has said he had no recollection of the killing, although he has also said he fired at Kennedy because he was enraged by his support for Israel.
He was sentenced to death in 1969, but his sentence was changed to life in prison during a period in which capital punishment was banned in California.
Kennedy’s older brother President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas in 1963.