Sen. Robert Kennedy’s assassin, Sirhan Sirhan, will attend a parole hearing on Wednesday, his fifteenth since Kennedy’s death in 1968.
Today’s hearing may be one in a long line of similar parole reviews, but this one has a twist. One the witnesses to Senator Kennedy’s assassination, Paul Schrade, will attend for the first time. Mr. Schrade has long been steadfast in his assertions that Mr. Sirhan did not act alone.
The primary season may bring back memories for some of Kennedy’s assassination, which occurred after his California Democratic primary win in early June, 1968. Kennedy had just addressed a crowd of supporters gathered in a ballroom at Los Angeles’ Ambassador Hotel.
Sirhan ambushed Kennedy and some of his close supporters in a pantry at the hotel as Kennedy left the ballroom.
Sirhan is now 71 years old. On the night he shot Kennedy, Sirhan was just 24. Initially, the Jerusalem native was sentenced to death after a $1 million trial. His sentence was commuted to life imprisonment with the possibility of parole in 1972.
The former stable hand has expressed regret for the shooting that killed Kennedy several times since the event occurred.
"I have become quite convinced that my act was very wrong, morally and humanly toward Robert Kennedy,” said Sirhan in 1989, “and especially toward his family and his loved ones and his supporters.''
Yet despite his apparent regret, Sirhan claims that he does not remember the assassination at all. He has maintained this claim for nearly 50 years now, and is expected to do so again during his trial on Wednesday.
In fact, despite his numerous parole hearings over the last five decades, Sirhan seems to have grown weary. His lawyer, Laurie Dusek, told the press that Sirhan was reluctant to return to court after his last parole hearing in 2011, which left him feeling ill.
Ms. Dusek encouraged Sirhan to appear in court, citing Schrade’s presence as a reason to appear. Finally, Sirhan agreed to show.
Schrade is currently 91 and has been seeking justice for Kennedy’s murder for decades. He was serving as Kennedy’s labor chair when the assassination occurred, and was himself injured in the attack. Schrade is convinced that Sirhan was not the only shooter.
In 1995, Schrade assisted author Dan Moldea with his book about the assassination, titled "The Killing of Robert F. Kennedy." Schrade parted ways with Mr. Moldea after the author came to an unsatisfying conclusion.
“Paul is a great man of honorable intentions at all times, but Paul has grabbed at every thread of conspiracy in this case," Moldea said. "When I concluded that Sirhan did it and did it alone, basically Paul cut me out of his life.”
In 2011, Dusek and fellow Sirhan lawyer William Pepper claimed that thirteen bullets were fired on the night of the assassination, several more than Sirhan could possibly have fired from his .22 caliber handgun. They contested existing evidence and presented evidence of their own, including audio analysis of the gun shots.
Schrade has also speculated on the existence of a possible second shooter. The case has intrigued the country for decades, with disappointing dead ends and recanted confessions by Sirhan, who first claimed that the murder was politically motivated before alleging that he couldn’t remember the event at all.
Sirhan’s last parole attempt was rejected in 2011 due “insufficient remorse” and failure to take advantage of self-help and reform opportunities.