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Robert F Kennedy Assassinated-1968 - History

Robert F Kennedy Assassinated-1968 - History

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The Burial of Robert Kennedy

Robert Kennedy, brother of the late President John F. Kennedy, was killed on June 5th, after winning the Democratic primary for the presidency in California. Kennedy was killed by a lone gunman, Sirhan Sirhan, in the kitchen of the Ambassador Hotel.

Robert Kennedy had been Attorney General during his brother's Administration. He stayed in that position for the first nine months of the Johnson Administration but finally resigned to run to become a Senator from New York. He served as a New York Senator starting in January
1965. In 1968 Kennedy had given thought to oppose President Johnson attempt to be reelected but had rejected the idea. After Eugene McCarthy came close to defeated Johnson in the New Hampshire primary Kennedy decided to run. He declared his candidacy on March 16, 1968. President Johnson shocked the nation when on March 31 he announced he would not run.

Kennedy entered and won the Indiana and Nebraska primaries but lost the Oregon primary to Eugene McCarthy. The California primary was going to be key, and on June 4th Kennedy won the primary there. Shortly after midnight on June 5th Kennedy addressed his supporters in the ballroom of the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles. As he left through the hotel kitchen Sirhan Sirhan and 24-year-old Palestinian shot Kennedy three times. Kennedy died in the hospital the next morning. He was 42 years of age.

This week in history: Robert F. Kennedy assassinated

Fifty years ago, at 12:16 am on Wednesday, June 5, 1968, just hours after the polls closed in the California presidential primary election, New York Senator Robert F. Kennedy, younger brother of the assassinated President John F. Kennedy, was himself shot in Los Angeles by an assassin in the Ambassador Hotel’s Embassy Room ballroom kitchen.

In the election, Kennedy won 46 percent of the vote and Sen. Eugene McCarthy, the anti-war candidate embraced by youth, 42 percent. At approximately 12:10 am on June 5, he addressed his campaign supporters, claiming victory. He was naturally in a good mood, but also spoke of healing the country’s divisions, “whether it’s between blacks and whites, between the poor and the more affluent, or between age groups, or over the war in Vietnam.” He ended his speech stating, “My thanks to all of you and now it’s on to Chicago, and let’s win there!”

From the podium RFK was to head elsewhere in the hotel to meet with supporters and the press. The route led through the ballroom kitchen. The affable candidate shook hands with busboy Juan Romero as star athletes Rafer Johnson and Rosey Grier, along with former FBI agent William Barry, stood near Kennedy. Suddenly, Palestinian-born Sirhan Sirhan approached with a .22 revolver hidden inside a rolled-up campaign poster and fired several shots at close range, hitting Kennedy and five bystanders. The men surrounding Kennedy grabbed Sirhan and disarmed him. Kennedy fell and as he lay wounded, Romero cradled the senator’s head and placed a rosary in his hand.

RFK’s wife Ethel, who was three months pregnant, knelt beside him, and he seemed to recognize her. After several minutes, medical attendants arrived and lifted him onto a stretcher, prompting him to whisper, “Don’t lift me.” Those were his last words before he lost consciousness. He was transferred several blocks to Good Samaritan Hospital for surgical treatment lasting three hours and 40 minutes.

Kennedy had been shot three times. One bullet, fired from about one inch away, entered behind his right ear, dispersing fragments throughout his brain. The other two entered at the rear of his right armpit one exited from his chest and the other lodged in the back of his neck. Despite extensive efforts to save his life, Kennedy was pronounced dead at 1:44 am on June 6, nearly 26 hours after the shooting. Kennedy spokesman Frank Mankiewicz made the official announcement to the press.

After RFK’s assassination, Congress altered the Secret Service’s mandate to include protection for presidential candidates. The remaining candidates were immediately protected under an executive order issued by Lyndon Johnson, who a few months before had declared he was not running for re-election. Before the convention, McCarthy dropped out of the race, overpowered by Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey’s support within the party.

Historians disagree as to what chances RFK would have had at the Democratic convention in Chicago. He was running behind Humphrey in delegate support, but following his victory in the California primary he might have surged ahead to secure the nomination. Famously disrupted by police violence, the convention concluded with Humphrey’s anointment, to the disappointment of millions of activists against the Vietnam War, many of whom could not bring themselves to vote for him. Humphrey lost the November election to Republican Richard Nixon in the popular vote by 43.4 percent to 42.7 percent. In the electoral vote Nixon’s victory was more decisive: 301-191. That was the year Nixon employed his “Southern strategy,” pulling away traditional solid Democratic South votes over issues of racism and nationalism, a strategy that has served the GOP ever since.

After Johnson’s refusal to run again, and after the murder of Martin Luther King Jr. in April, just two months before, Robert F. Kennedy seemed like the only man in politics capable of leading the American people toward any degree of unity. He was well loved in minority communities for his passion for civil rights, perhaps the one man who could carry forward the ideals of the Great Society. In RFK, America found hope.

RFK’s funeral took place at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York. Ted Kennedy said, “My brother need not be idealized, or enlarged in death beyond what he was in life, to be remembered simply as a good and decent man, who saw wrong and tried to right it, saw suffering and tried to heal it, saw war and tried to stop it.”

A funeral train took his body down the east coast to Washington’s Union Station. A hearse bore him to Arlington National Cemetery for burial nearby his brother John. The Harvard University Band played “America the Beautiful.”

Kennedy’s assassination struck a heavy blow to the optimism for a brighter future that his campaign inspired. Juan Romero, the Ambassador busboy who cradled RFK’s head in his hands, later said, “It made me realize that no matter how much hope you have it can be taken away in a second.”

“We are the first generation that learned from experience, in our innocent twenties, that things were not really getting better, that we shall not overcome,” wrote Jack Newfield, a reporter who had been traveling with the campaign, in a memoir on Kennedy. “We felt, by the time we reached thirty, that we had already glimpsed the most compassionate leaders our nation could produce, and they had all been assassinated. And from this time forward, things would get worse: our best political leaders were part of memory now, not hope.”

The war that Nixon inherited from Johnson would continue all through Nixon’s first term and into his second, ending only just before May Day 1975, seven long years after RFK’s death.

Sirhan confessed to the crime at his trial and received a death sentence on March 3, 1969. However, since the California State Supreme Court invalidated all death penalty sentences in 1972, he has spent the rest of his life in prison. His diaries revealed that he believed Kennedy was “instrumental” in the oppression of Palestinians.

RFK’s Political Ambition

Just one year after his brother’s assassination, Robert left his post as Attorney General. He knew that he had big shoes to fill and that he needed to carry on the Kennedy legacy.

In 1964, Robert decided that he was going to run for the United States Senate as a Democrat from New York. Robert won the primary and went on to win the general election. He served as a Senator from New York from 1964 until his gruesome assassination in 1968.

In 1968, Robert decided that it was his time to shine. He filed papers to enter the 1968 Presidential race. To gain the Democrat nomination, he needed to beat out fellow Senator, Eugene McCarthy, in the primary.

During his campaign, RFK appealed to poor, African American, Hispanic, Catholic, and young voters.

To make it to the general election, and face Richard Nixon in the general election, RFK needed to win the California primary. And, he did just that.

His political involvement

It’s not surprising Robert Kennedy became involved in politics, especially after watching John F. Kennedy’s political achievements. After his brother’s assassination in 1963, Kennedy joined President Lyndon B. Johnson’s administration but eventually resigned in 1964 to run for New York’s Senate seat. He was vocal about his criticism of the Vietnam War, which gained him some popularity but also hatred. In 1968, Kennedy decided to run for president as a socially progressive Democratic. He began his busy campaign schedule and on June 4, 1968, he won a major victory in the California primary. He seemed to be the shoo-in candidate for the Democratic nomination. Others were sure he would become president, but unfortunately, he didn’t live to the election.

Today in History, June 5, 1968: Democratic candidate Sen. Robert F. Kennedy assassinated

Congress passed the Neutrality Act, which prohibited Americans from taking part in any military action against a country that was at peace with the United States.

Civil War hero Gen. William T. Sherman from Lancaster, Ohio, refused the Republican presidential nomination, saying, “I will not accept if nominated and will not serve if elected.”

The United States went off the gold standard.

Secretary of State George C. Marshall gave a speech at Harvard University in which he outlined an aid program for Europe that came to be known as The Marshall Plan.

The U.S. Supreme Court, in Henderson v. United States, struck down racially segregated railroad dining cars.

Britain's Secretary of State for War, John Profumo, resigned after acknowledging an affair with call girl Christine Keeler, who was involved with a Soviet spy, and lying to Parliament about it.

War erupted in the Mideast as Israel raided military aircraft parked on the ground in Egypt Syria, Jordan and Iraq entered the conflict.

Sen. Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated after claiming victory in California's Democratic presidential primary gunman Sirhan Bishara Sirhan was arrested.

The Centers for Disease Control reported that five homosexuals in Los Angeles had come down with a rare kind of pneumonia they were the first recognized cases of what later became known as AIDS.

Federal jury in Baltimore convicted Ronald W. Pelton of selling secrets to the Soviet Union. (Pelton was sentenced to three life prison terms plus 10 years.)

Former CIA officer Harold J. Nicholson was sentenced to 23½ years in prison for selling defense secrets to Russia after the Cold War.

Indiana Crossroads: Hoosier Civil Rights

On April 4, 1968, Civil Rights leader Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr was assassinated at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee. News of his passing spread throughout the country, sparking multi-day riots in over 100 cities including Washington DC, Kansas City, Los Angeles, and Detroit. The city of Indianapolis did not experience riots related to King’s assassination, in part because of an impromptu calming and unifying speech by Robert F. Kennedy.[1] The brother of the late President John F. Kennedy, Robert Kennedy was vying for the Democratic Party presidential nomination in 1968. Earlier that day, Kennedy had delivered speeches at Notre Dame University in South Bend, and Ball State University in Muncie while campaigning in Indiana. He spoke of typical campaign topics including poverty, racism, and the Vietnam War.[2]

Muncie attorney Marshall Hanley told Kennedy about King’s assassination before his plane left for Indianapolis for the last campaign stop of the day. A 1969 Indianapolis Star article recorded Hanley’s recollection: “I heard the news flash over the radio and told the senator as he came to the airplane ramp…. He seemed stunned and dropped his head. ‘Is he dead?’ he asked. I said I didn't know and then he went on up the ramp to the plane."[3]

Kennedy was scheduled to speak at a rally at 17th and Broadway Streets in Indianapolis, in the heart of the African American community. After arriving in Indianapolis and confirming King’s death, Kennedy proceeded to the rally spot at 9:00 pm, climbed on the back of a flatbed truck, and delivered his remarks despite fears of race riots erupting.[4] About 2,500 African Americans, many members of groups such as the Black Panthers and the Black Radical Action Project, had gathered to hear Kennedy speak. Most in the crowd had not heard of King’s death until Kennedy broke the news.[5] Instead of his planned campaign speech, Kennedy delivered personal and compassionate thoughts, uniting the crowd. Kennedy’s speech is often believed to be the reason riots did not break out in Indianapolis. He was able to calm the public, particularly the African American community, who were in shock and deeply mourning Dr. King’s death. In an act of empathy, Kennedy spoke about his own brother’s death in 1963, the first time he had done so in public. Kennedy stated: “So I ask you tonight to return home, to say a prayer for the family of Martin Luther King -- yeah, it's true -- but more importantly to say a prayer for our own country, which all of us love -- a prayer for understanding and that compassion of which I spoke.” The crowd erupted in applause after his speech.[6]

The speech did not grab immediate media attention. Publisher Eugene C. Pulliam of the Indianapolis Star and Indianapolis News was not a fan of Kennedy and gave the speech as little coverage as possible. In addition, the coverage of Dr. King’s death, funeral, and ensuing nationwide riots overshadowed coverage of Kennedy’s remarks. The 637-word speech is now often listed as one of the greatest speeches in American history.[7] Robert F. Kennedy himself was assassinated on June 5, 1968 while on a California primary stop in Los Angeles, just two months after announcing Dr. King’s death to the African American community in Indianapolis.

The unifying message delivered by Kennedy on April 4, 1968, is still remembered years later by those who heard his remarks in person. Jim Trulock, an Indianapolis autoworker at the time, reminisced 50 years later. “He spoke from the heart. At the time a good half of the crowd hadn’t heard of Dr. King’s assassination, so when he made that announcement you could hear this gasps amongst the crowd. I’ve heard a lot of speeches in my life, I’m 80 years old, but it was the best speech I’ve heard to this date.”[8] An Indiana Historical Bureau marker at the corner of 17th and Broadway Streets in Indianapolis commemorates the site of Kennedy’s speech.[9] The Dr. Martin Luther King Park & Landmark for Peace Memorial is also on the site and honors both King and Kennedy.[10]

Robert F. Kennedy

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Robert F. Kennedy, in full Robert Francis Kennedy, (born November 20, 1925, Brookline, Massachusetts, U.S.—died June 6, 1968, Los Angeles, California), U.S. attorney general and adviser during the administration of his brother Pres. John F. Kennedy (1961–63) and later a U.S. senator (1965–68). He was assassinated while campaigning for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination in 1968.

Robert interrupted his studies at Harvard University to serve in the U.S. Navy during World War II but returned to the university and graduated in 1948. After receiving a law degree from the University of Virginia Law School in 1951, he began his political career in Massachusetts the next year with the management of his brother John’s successful campaign for the U.S. Senate. Robert first came into national prominence in 1953, when he was an assistant counsel to the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, headed by Joseph R. McCarthy (he resigned in mid-1953 but returned in 1954 as counsel to the Democratic minority). In 1957 he was chief counsel to the Senate select committee conducting investigations into labour racketeering, which led to his long-standing feud with James R. Hoffa of the Teamsters Union. Kennedy resigned from the committee staff in 1960 to conduct his brother’s campaign for the U.S. presidency. After John won the election, he appointed (1961) Robert attorney general in his cabinet.

On November 22, 1963, the president was assassinated in Dallas, Texas. Kennedy continued to serve as attorney general until he resigned in September 1964. The months after his brother’s death were a desperate time for him. He was stooped by grief and spent long periods staring out windows or walking in the Virginia woods. He had presided over the Department of Justice for 44 months. He had emerged as a statesman of the law, improving the lot of many. Learning on May 20, 1961, that a hostile mob threatened the civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr., and about 1,200 of his supporters in Montgomery, Alabama, Kennedy sent 400 federal marshals to protect them. In subsequent racial crises he used long telephone sessions to work out the strategies of peace officers in the South. He also led a tough and imaginative drive against organized crime. One of his proudest achievements was assembling the evidence that convicted Hoffa. On Kennedy’s departure from the Department of Justice, The New York Times, which had criticized his appointment three years earlier, said editorially,

He named excellent men to most key posts, put new vigor into protecting civil rights through administrative action, played a pivotal role in shaping the most comprehensive civil rights law in this century…. Mr. Kennedy has done much to elevate the standard.

He was the author of The Enemy Within (1960), Just Friends and Brave Enemies (1962), and Pursuit of Justice (1964).

In November 1964 he was elected U.S. senator from New York. Within two years Kennedy had established himself as a major political figure in his own right. He became the chief spokesman for liberal Democrats and a critic of Pres. Lyndon B. Johnson’s Vietnam policy. On March 16, 1968, he announced his candidacy for the presidency. By June 4 he had won five out of six presidential primaries, including one that day in California. Shortly after midnight on June 5 he spoke to his followers in Los Angeles’ Ambassador Hotel. As he left through a kitchen hallway, he was fatally wounded by a Palestinian immigrant, Sirhan Bishara Sirhan. Kennedy was buried near his brother John at Arlington National Cemetery.

Kennedy and his wife, Ethel, had 11 children, several of whom became politicians and activists.

Robert F. Kennedy Assassinated 1968

Fifty years ago today, U.S. Senator and presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles. Kennedy had just won the California primary, and some believe he was on his way to winning the Democratic presidential nomination.

The assassination took place five years after his brother, President John F. Kennedy, had been assassinated. It was one of many events that made 1968 a particularly tumultuous year. Earlier Numbers of the Day looked at the 1968 assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Tet Offensive in Vietnam. In March of that year, President Lyndon B. Johnson announced he would not seek re-election.

In 1968, only 13 states had primaries, and most convention delegates were free to vote as they saw fit. At the time Kennedy was shot, he trailed Vice President Hubert Humphrey in the delegate count. However, given that the majority of delegates were unpledged, it was at least theoretically possible for Kennedy to win over some Humphrey delegates.

Humphrey eventually won the nomination but lost the general election to Richard Nixon.

In August 1968, the Democratic National Convention sparked riots and violence between police and tens of thousands of activists. Following that debacle, the party established a commission to reform the presidential nomination process. The McGovern-Fraser Commission created the system we know today where just about all delegates are selected directly by voters and pledged to a particular candidate.

Senator George McGovern oversaw the creation of this new approach and then used it to win the Democratic nomination in 1972.

This Day in History: Robert F. Kennedy Assassinated

On June 5, 1968, Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles, as he left the ballroom after giving his victory speech following his win in the California Presidential Primary. Many believed his primary victory would lead to securing the Democratic nomination for President, and the Presidency.

Robert F. Kennedy at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles, minutes before he was shot the football player Rosie Greer, behind him on the left, helped apprehend the gunman, Sirhan Sirhan.

This was one of many assassinations which rocked the country in 1968, including Martin Luther King Jr.’s just two months earlier. In the midst of the tumultuous events of this most turbulent year in modern American history, and following his brother’s assassination just four and half years earlier, Bobby Kennedy’s assassination led to profound mourning and intense soul-searching on the part of many Americans.

Mourners await the RFK funeral train on June 8 as it headed from New York to Washington D.C.

Kennedy’s body was transported by train from New York City, where it had lain in repose in St. Patrick’s Cathedral, to Washington D.C. for burial near his brother, President John F. Kennedy, at Arlington National Cemetery. Thousands of mourners silently lined the train route and stations to pay their respects as his body passed. Images of the crowds, consisting of young and old, rich and poor, white and black, rural and urban, were transmitted across the globe, and stood as testament to Kennedy’s broad appeal and the deep devotion he inspired across the country.

One of many places where Kennedy was mourned was Greenwich Village. Kennedy represented the Village, and the rest of New York State, in the U.S. Senate from 1965 until his death. His strongly anti-war, pro-civil rights, anti-poverty platform resonated strongly in the Village. But Kennedy had another important connection to Greenwich Village.

It was at the legendary Lion’s Head Tavern on Christopher Street that, according to several reliable reports, writers Pete Hamill and Jack Newfield convinced Kennedy to make the surprise move to run for the Senate from New York in 1964. Some reports claim that Kennedy decided to run for the Presidency there as well, but these are likely conflations of the Senate story, as more reliable accounts indicate he made that decision after meeting with a hunger-striking Ceasar Chavez in California in early 1968.

More mourners lining the train route.

In either case, the Lion’s Head was next door to the offices of the Village Voice, and both Pete Hamill and Jack Newfield wrote for the Voice, knew Kennedy well, and brought him to their favorite literary watering hole. Newfield in fact published a book about Kennedy not long after his assassination, “Robert Kennedy: A Memoir,” while Hamill was actually with Kennedy when he was shot, sharing his account of Kennedy’s last moments in The Village Voice on June 13, 1968.

The Lion’s Head Tavern was located here, at 59 Christopher Street, until 1996, between what was in the 1960’s the offices of the Village Voice (left) and the Stonewall Inn bar (right). Talk about a lot of history in one place.

Kennedy’s campaign for the U.S. Senate was apparently not only born in the Village, but he campaigned in the Village as well, holding a rally at 9th Street and Sixth Avenue in early October, 1964. On that day, according to Newfield in the Village Voice, Kennedy “evoked Beatlemania…and climbed on top of a blue station wagon to address a crowd of about 1000.”

Robert F. Kennedy campaigning in the Village on 6th Avenue. A young Ed Koch was standing on the right.

Kennedy won narrowly statewide against the Republican incumbent, Kenneth Keating, but unsurprisingly won overwhelmingly in the Village.


Sirhan was born into an Arab Palestinian Christian family [6] [7] in Jerusalem, Mandatory Palestine. According to his mother, as a child Sirhan was traumatized by the violence he witnessed in the Arab–Israeli conflict, including the death of his older brother, who was run over by a Jordanian military vehicle that was swerving to escape Israeli gunfire. [8]

When Sirhan was 12 years old, his family immigrated to the US, moving briefly to New York and then to California. In Altadena, he attended Eliot Junior High School, followed by John Muir High School and Pasadena City College, both in Pasadena. Sirhan's father, Bishara, has been characterized as a stern man who often beat his sons harshly. Shortly after the family's move to California, Bishara returned alone to the Middle East. [9] Standing 5 feet 5 inches (165 cm) and weighing 120 pounds (54 kg) at 20 years old, Sirhan moved to Corona to train to be a jockey while working at a stable, but lost his job and abandoned the pursuit after suffering a head injury in a racing accident. [10] [ page needed ]

Sirhan never became an American citizen, retaining instead his Jordanian citizenship. [7] As an adult, he changed church denominations several times, joining Baptist and Seventh-day Adventist churches. [11] Then in 1966, he joined the esoteric organization Ancient Mystical Order of the Rose Cross, commonly known as the Rosicrucians. [12]

Around 12:15 a.m. PDT on June 5, 1968, Sirhan fired a .22 caliber Iver-Johnson Cadet revolver [13] at United States Senator Robert F. Kennedy and the crowd surrounding him in the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles shortly after Kennedy had finished addressing supporters in the hotel's main ballroom. Authors George Plimpton, Jimmy Breslin, and Pete Hamill, professional football player Rosey Grier, [14] and 1960 Olympic gold medalist Rafer Johnson were among several men who subdued and disarmed Sirhan after a struggle. [15]

Kennedy was shot three times—once in the head and twice in the back—with a fourth bullet passing through his jacket. He died almost 26 hours later at Good Samaritan Hospital. Five other people at the event were also shot, but all five recovered: Paul Schrade, an official with the United Automobile Workers union William Weisel, an ABC TV unit manager Ira Goldstein, a reporter with the Continental News Service [16] Elizabeth Evans, a friend of Pierre Salinger, one of Kennedy's campaign aides and Irwin Stroll, a teenage Kennedy volunteer. [17] [18]

In a 2018 interview with The Washington Post, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. said that he traveled to the Richard J. Donovan correctional facility in California to meet with Sirhan, and that after a relatively lengthy conversation (the details of which he would not disclose), believed that Sirhan did not kill his father and that a second gunman was involved. [19]

Despite the fact that Sirhan admitted his guilt in a recorded confession while in police custody on June 9, a lengthy, publicized trial followed in The People of the State of California v. Sirhan Sirhan. The judge did not accept his confession and denied his request to withdraw his plea of "not guilty" in order to plead "guilty". [20]

On February 10, 1969, Sirhan's lawyers made a motion in chambers to enter a plea of guilty to first-degree murder in exchange for life imprisonment rather than the death penalty. Sirhan told Judge Herbert V. Walker that he wanted to withdraw his original plea of not guilty in order to plead guilty as charged on all counts. He also asked that his counsel "dissociate themselves from this case completely." The judge asked him what he wanted to do about sentencing, and Sirhan replied, "I will ask to be executed." [20] Walker denied the motion and said, "This court will not accept the plea." He also denied Sirhan's request for his counsel to withdraw his counsel entered another motion to withdraw from the case of their own volition, but Walker denied that as well. [20] Walker subsequently ordered that the record be sealed pertaining to the motion. [21]

The trial proceeded, and opening statements began on February 12. The lead prosecutor in the case was Lynn "Buck" Compton, a World War II veteran of Easy Company fame who later became a justice of the California Court of Appeal. [22] David Fitts delivered the prosecution's opening statement, providing examples of Sirhan's preparations to kill Kennedy. The prosecution showed that Sirhan was seen at the Ambassador Hotel on June 3, two nights before the attack, to learn the building's layout, and that he visited a gun range on June 4. Alvin Clark, Sirhan's garbage collector, testified that Sirhan had told him a month before the attack of his intention to shoot Kennedy. [20]

Sirhan's defense counsel included attorney Grant Cooper, who had hoped to demonstrate that the killing had been the impulsive act of a man with a mental deficiency. But Walker admitted into evidence pages from three of the journal notebooks Sirhan had kept that suggested the crime was premeditated and "quite calculating and willful." [20] On March 3, Cooper asked Sirhan in direct testimony if he had shot Kennedy Sirhan replied, "Yes, sir," but then said that he did not bear Kennedy any ill will. [20] Sirhan also testified that he had killed Kennedy "with 20 years of malice aforethought." He explained in an interview with David Frost in 1989 that this referred to the time since the creation of the State of Israel. He has maintained since then that he has no memory of the crime, or of making that statement in court. [23]

The defense based its case primarily on the expert testimony of Bernard L. Diamond, M.D., a professor of law and psychiatry at the University of California, Berkeley who testified that Sirhan was suffering from diminished capacity at the time of the murder. [24]

Sirhan was convicted on April 17, 1969, and was sentenced six days later to death in the gas chamber. Three years later, his sentence was commuted to life in prison, owing to the California Supreme Court's decision in The People of the State of California vs. Robert Page Anderson, which ruled that capital punishment is a violation of the California Constitution's prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. The February 1972 decision was retroactive, invalidating all existing death sentences in California. [21]

Appeals Edit

Sirhan's lawyer Lawrence Teeter later argued that Grant Cooper was compromised by a conflict of interest and was, as a consequence, grossly negligent in defense of his client. [25] The defense moved for a new trial amid claims of setups, police bungles, hypnotism, brainwashing, blackmail, and government conspiracies. [26] [27] On June 5, 2003, coincidentally the 35th anniversary of Kennedy's assassination, Teeter petitioned a federal court in Los Angeles to move the case to Fresno. [26] [27] He argued that Sirhan could not get a fair hearing in Los Angeles, where a man who helped prosecute him was then a federal judge: U.S. District Judge William Matthew Byrne Jr. in Los Angeles was an assistant U.S. attorney during Sirhan's trial, and part of the prosecutorial team. [28]

Since 1994 Teeter had been trying to have state and federal courts overturn Sirhan's conviction, arguing his client was hypnotized and framed, possibly by a government conspiracy. [26] [27] During one hearing Teeter referred to testimony from the original trial transcripts regarding a prosecution eyewitness to the attack, author George Plimpton, in which he said that Sirhan looked "enormously composed. He seemed . purged." This statement coincided with the defense's argument that Sirhan had shot Kennedy while in some kind of hypnotic trance. [20] The motion was denied. Teeter died in 2005, and Sirhan declined other counsel to replace him. [29]

On November 26, 2011, Sirhan's defense teams filed court papers for a new trial, saying that "expert analysis of recently uncovered evidence shows two guns were fired in the assassination and that Sirhan's revolver was not the gun that shot Kennedy" [6] [30] [31] and he "should be freed from prison or granted a new trial based on 'formidable evidence', asserting his innocence and 'horrendous violations' of his rights". [6]

On January 5, 2015, Sirhan's motion was denied by U.S. District Judge Beverly Reid O'Connell in Los Angeles, who said that Sirhan "failed to meet the showing required for actual innocence" that might excuse his having failed to seek his freedom sooner in federal court. In other words, Sirhan's case was not strong enough. "Though petitioner advances a number of theories regarding the events of June 5, 1968, petitioner does not dispute that he fired eight rounds of gunfire in the kitchen pantry of the Ambassador Hotel", O'Connell wrote. "Petitioner does not show that it is more likely than not that no juror, acting reasonably, would have found him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt."

Motives Edit

A motive cited for Sirhan's actions is the Middle East conflict. [32] After his arrest, Sirhan said, "I can explain it. I did it for my country." [32] Sirhan believed that he was deliberately betrayed by Kennedy's support for Israel in the June 1967 Six-Day War, [33] which had begun one year to the day before the assassination. During a search of Sirhan's apartment after his arrest, a spiral-bound notebook was found containing a diary entry that demonstrated that his anger had gradually fixated on Kennedy, who had promised to send 50 fighter jets to Israel if elected president. Sirhan's journal entry of May 18, 1968, read: "My determination to eliminate R.F.K. is becoming the more and more [sic] of an unshakable obsession. Kennedy must die before June 5th." [20] [32] They found other notebooks and diary entries expressing his growing rage at Kennedy his journals also contained many nonsensical scribbles that were thought to be his version of "free writing". He wrote in support of communism: "Long live Communism. I firmly support the communist cause and its people. American capitalism will fall and give way to the worker's dictatorship." [34]

The next day, on June 6, the Los Angeles Times printed an article by Jerry Cohen that discussed Sirhan's motive for the assassination, confirmed by the memos Sirhan wrote to himself. The article stated: "When the Jordanian nationalist, Sirhan Bishara Sirhan, allegedly shot Kennedy, ostensibly because of the senator's advocacy of U.S. support for Israel, the crime with which he was charged was in essence another manifestation of the centuries-old hatred between Arab and Jew. [35]

M.T. Mehdi, then secretary-general of the Action Committee on American-Arab Relations, believed that Sirhan had acted in justifiable self-defense, stating: "Sirhan was defending himself against those 50 Phantom jets Kennedy was sending to Israel." Mehdi wrote a 100-page book on the subject called Kennedy and Sirhan: Why? [36]

Later in prison, Sirhan claimed that he had been drunk. An interview with Sirhan in 1980 revealed new claims that a combination of liquor and anger over the anniversary of the 1967 Arab-Israeli war had triggered his actions. "You must remember the circumstances of that night, June 5. That was when I was provoked," Sirhan says, recorded in a transcript of one of his interviews with Mehdi, later president of the New York-based American-Arab Relations Committee. "That is when I initially went to observe the Jewish Zionist parade in celebration of the June 5, 1967, victory over the Arabs. That was the catalyst that triggered me on that night." Then Sirhan said, "In addition, there was the consumption of the liquor, and I want the public to understand that." [29]

In 1971, Sirhan was housed in the Adjustment Center at San Quentin State Prison. [37] He was subsequently transferred to the Correctional Training Facility (CTF) in Soledad, California, where he was confined until 1992. [38] [39] From 1992 to 2009 he was confined at the California State Prison (COR) in Corcoran, California, and lived in COR's Protective Housing Unit until he was moved to a harsher lockdown at COR in 2003. [38] In October 2009, ostensibly for his safety, he was transferred to the Pleasant Valley State Prison in Coalinga, California, where he was housed in a cell by himself. [40] He was subsequently moved back to Corcoran.

On November 22, 2013, Sirhan was transferred from Corcoran to the Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility in San Diego County. The transfer occurred on the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, but a spokesman for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation said that the transfer was "a routine matter of housing allotments" and its timing was "simply an unfortunate coincidence". [41]

On August 30, 2019, Sirhan was stabbed multiple times by another prisoner. [42] [43] He was taken to a hospital, where his condition was reported as stable. [44] He returned to the prison two days later, after his discharge from the hospital. [45]

Applications for parole Edit

In a 1980 interview with M. T. Mehdi, Sirhan claimed that his actions were fueled by liquor and anger. He then complained that the parole board was not taking these "mitigating" circumstances into account when they continually denied his parole. [29]

On May 10, 1982, Sirhan told the parole board: "I sincerely believe that if Robert Kennedy were alive today, I believe he would not countenance singling me out for this kind of treatment. I think he would be among the first to say that, however horrible the deed I committed 14 years ago was, that it should not be the cause for denying me equal treatment under the laws of this country." [46] [47]

On March 2, 2011, Sirhan was denied parole for the 14th time. [48]

On February 10, 2016, at his 15th parole hearing, he was denied parole again. One of Sirhan's shooting victims from that night, Paul Schrade, aged 91 at the time of the hearing, testified in his support, stating his belief that a second shooter killed Kennedy and that Sirhan was intended to be a distraction from the real gunman by an unknown conspiracy. [49] [50] [51] Sirhan repeated his claim to have no memory of the shooting, stating: "It's all vague now. I'm sure you all have it in your records. I can't deny it or confirm it. I just wish this whole thing had never taken place." His parole was denied on the grounds that he had not expressed adequate remorse for his crime or acknowledged its severity. [49]

Supporters Edit

In 1974, Bill Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn dedicated their communist manifesto Prairie Fire: The Politics of Revolutionary Anti-Imperialism to Sirhan (along with 200 others), hailing him as a courageous political prisoner. [52] In February 1973, Sirhan's release was one of the demands of Black September terrorists who took American hostages at the Saudi Arabian Embassy in Khartoum. [53]