Opinion | Rory Kennedy: Don’t Parole Sirhan Sirhan, My Father’s Assassin
The commissioner kept pressing: “I’m asking you to tell me what you believe you’re responsible for.”
Mr. Sirhan replied: “It’s a good question. Legally speaking, I’m not guilty of anything.”
Again, this was in 2016. He was 71 years old and been incarcerated for 48 years. That he was, of course, denied parole, is easy to understand. And so my question is: What in the intervening five years has changed? We know that a law or two has changed (as we’ve seen, they frequently do), maybe some attitudes have changed, and Mr. Sirhan is a few years older. For a dash of color, news reports consistently mention his snow white hair, as if somehow that indicates he’s no longer a threat.
But as last Friday’s parole hearing made clear, his suitability for release has not changed. According to Julie Watson, the Associated Press reporter present, Mr. Sirhan still maintains that he does not recall the killing and that “it pains me to experience that, the knowledge for such a horrible deed, if I did in fact do that.” If? How can you express remorse while refusing to accept responsibility? And how, having committed one of the most notorious assassinations of the latter part of the 20th century, can you be considered rehabilitated when you won’t even acknowledge your role in the crime itself?
Yet last week’s parole commissioner, Robert Barton, found a way. Although the official transcripts have not yet been released, he is reported as telling Mr. Sirhan, “We did not find that your lack of taking complete responsibility” for the shooting indicates that you are “currently dangerous.”
I know that prisons are overcrowded, and I realize that it is expensive to keep an older man behind bars. But without concern for justice or regard for rehabilitation, the parole panel of two has recommended that the man who killed my father be released. Free to live, perhaps, in Pasadena, Calif., with his brother, less than an hour’s drive from my home. Or, as is more likely, to go to Jordan, where he has citizenship.
It is true that Mr. Sirhan has been incarcerated for a long time. For 53 years to be exact. That is, after all, an easy number for me to track. It is the same number of years that my father has been dead. It is the age that I turn on my birthday this year.
The decision to release Mr. Sirhan still has to be reviewed by the full parole board and then by California’s governor. I ask them, for my family and — I believe for our country, too — to please reject this recommendation and keep Sirhan Sirhan in prison.
Rory Kennedy is a documentary filmmaker. She is the youngest child of Robert Kennedy, the New York senator and presidential candidate assassinated in June 1968.