Tuesday, 25 January 2022 23:49

Gavin Newsom and Sirhan’s Parole

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Jim DiEugenio reviews the possible motivations for the governor of California’s decision to overturn the parole board’s approval of Sirhan’ release this past September.


Today, California is one of only three states in which the governor has the ability to overrule a parole board decision.  Which means he has a political veto over a deliberative process. The other two states are Oklahoma and Maryland.  In Maryland, a bill is advancing through the legislature which would eliminate the gubernatorial veto.  And the citizens of the state support the change overwhelmingly.  I sincerely hope the same thing now happens in California.

Since taking office in March of 2019, Governor Gavin Newsom has used this discretionary power rather often. To be exact, 46 times. On January 13th he again overruled the parole board, this time in the case of Sirhan Sirhan. In fact, on that day, Newsom wrote an editorial for the LA Times about his decision. He began that column by saying, “… Sirhan assassinated Sen. Robert F. Kennedy just moments after Kennedy won the California presidential primary.” He then added that, “Decades later, Sirhan refuses to accept responsibility for the crimes.”

He then stated what is likely the real reason for reversing the parole board. He mentioned that his murder left RFK’s “eleven children without a father and his wife without a husband.  Kennedy’s family bears his loss every day.” The Kennedy family made an extraordinary effort to keep Sirhan behind bars––in spite of the parole board’s verdict. They seem to have arranged a multi-platformed media crusade to both counter the parole board decision and also to neutralize the efforts of Robert Kennedy Jr. For he is the only member of that family who has spoken out against the official verdicts in both the John Kennedy and Robert Kennedy cases.

For instance, Rory Kennedy wrote a piece in The New York Times on September 1st of last year titled, “The Man Who Murdered my Father Doesn’t Deserve Parole.” She  wrote that, “As my father was taken forever, so too should Mr. Sirhan be.”

The majority of Robert Kennedy’s children––six of them––feel this way, and this helped give political cover to Newsom’s decision to veto the parole board.  The problem with this is dual.  First, the board has rules and guidelines it follows in order to make a decision.  Political advantage and familial vengeance should not be part of that process.  Secondly, as many have noted, Sirhan has served much longer for the charge he was convicted of than the normal term. What is the purpose of keeping him there so much longer when the board has deemed him no danger to society?

Part of this crusade seems to simply stem from a reaction to RFK Jr’s outspokenness on the issue.  For decades, the policy of the Kennedy family had been not to speak out on the assassinations of either President Kennedy or Senator Kennedy. Bobby Kennedy Jr. changed that pattern. He began speaking out about it back in 2013 during a public appearance with Rory hosted by Charlie Rose in Dallas. (New Haven Register, Associated Press report January 12, 2013) He furthered his ideas on the subject matter with his book American Values in 2018.

What is so ironic about this is that, as David Talbot’s book Brothers shows, Attorney General Robert Kennedy never bought the cover story about his brother’s death. In fact, within a week of JFK’s murder both Bobby and JFK’s widow, Jackie Kennedy, wrote a letter to the rulers in Moscow saying that they understood that Lee Oswald was simply a front man, and that President Kennedy’s assassination was the work of a large domestic plot. (Talbot, pp. 32-34)

Somehow, the majority of Robert Kennedy’s children cannot seem to understand this even though their father did. And if this is what Senator Kennedy thought, and he was on the verge of gaining the Democratic nomination, would those who killed President Kennedy hesitate to get rid of him? When, in fact, they murdered his brother while in a motorcade, in broad daylight in front of hundreds of witnesses?

Many of us have sympathized with the Kennedy family for decades.  After all, Jackie did not even want Bobby to run for the presidency. She feared that what happened to her husband would then happen to him. She was correct.

But this is now 2022.  Why do we still have a Kennedy family deed of gift for the autopsy materials on John Kennedy? Which means their representative can rule on who sees those exhibits. Why are the notes by William Manchester on his book The Death of a President still ruled off limits to the public? That book was issued in 1967. And now the Kennedy family gets to influence whether or not Sirhan has served enough time in prison? I won’t even argue the idea that Sirhan not only did not but could not have committed the crime, since that should not be argued before the parole board.  Suffice it to say, Sirhan was railroaded by both the LAPD and the DA’s office. Due to his incompetent lawyers, the merits of his case were not argued in court.  In other words, the same thing that happened in the John Kennedy case occurred in the Robert Kennedy case. When Martin Luther King was being legally railroaded in Georgia during the 1960 presidential campaign, the Kennedy brothers intervened. And this showed the difference between them and Richard Nixon. (Mr. Kennedy and the Negroes, by Harry Golden, pp. 20-22)

California is a big, powerful, liberal state. Gavin Newsom just won a smashing victory against a recall effort. He must also be quite aware that former state Attorney General Kamala Harris is now the country’s vice-president. While state AG she had a perfect opportunity to reopen the RFK case.  She decided to fight the petition by Sirhan’s then attorneys Laurie Dusek and Bill Pepper. (see Lisa Pease, A Lie too Big to Fail, pp. 501-02) She understood that any effort to do the right thing in that case would be a detriment to career advancement. She put her finger in the wind and she went to the Senate and then the White House. Newsom clearly recalls the paradigm.

Angela Berry is a specialist in these types of parole hearings and cases.  She is Sirhan’s present attorney.  She replied that Newsom “had bowed to political considerations in denying her client parole.” She then added that “the legal decision for his release is clear and straightforward.  We are confident that the judicial review of the governor’s decision will show that the governor got it wrong.”  She further asserted that state law holds that inmates are supposed to be paroled unless they pose a current unreasonable public safety risk. Yet “not an iota of evidence exists to suggest Mr. Sirhan is still a danger to society.”  And she noted that prison psychologists and psychiatrists had assessed his case in such a manner. To cinch the case that he poses no threat to society, Sirhan has waived his right to fight deportation. But prison does pose a threat to him, since Berry said he had his throat slashed by another inmate in 2019. (read the story here

Let us end with this point of comparison: it should be noted that both Arthur Bremer and John Hinckley are both out of custody today. They both live in the United States. And Hinckley has his own YouTube channel to showcase his music.

Last modified on Wednesday, 26 January 2022 03:12
James DiEugenio

One of the most respected researchers and writers on the political assassinations of the 1960s, Jim DiEugenio is the author of two books, Destiny Betrayed (1992/2012) and The JFK Assassination: The Evidence Today (2018), co-author of The Assassinations, and co-edited Probe Magazine (1993-2000).   See "About Us" for a fuller bio.

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