A California review board on Friday recommended that Sirhan Sirhan, the Palestinian refugee serving a life sentence for assassinating U.S. presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy in 1968, be released from prison on parole.
Sirhan, 77, has previously been denied parole 15 times.
The latest decision by a Board of Parole Hearings panel is now 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 before a final judgment is rendered.
The California governor then has 30 days to reverse the board’s action or let it stand. That process would most likely put Sirhan’s fate in the hands incumbent Governor Gavin Newsom, a first-term Democrat, assuming he survives a recall election set for September.
If the governor takes no action on a parole grant, the inmate is then scheduled for release.
The Palestinian-born Sirhan was convicted of gunning down Kennedy, 42, in the kitchen pantry of the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles on June 5, 1968. The shooting occurred minutes after the U.S. senator from New York and former U.S. attorney general gave his victory speech after 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.
Two members of the slain senator’s family, including his son, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., sent letters to the parole board in support of Sirhan’s release, the Los Angeles Times reported.
Sirhan’s attorney Angela Berry told the newspaper her client has never been accused of a serious prison violation and that prison officials have deemed him a low risk.
Parole board officials and his attorney were not immediately available for comment.
Sirhan, who was found guilty of first-degree murder and assault with intent to murder, is imprisoned at the R.J. Donovan Correctional Facility in San Diego. Sirhan was sentenced to death in 1969, but his sentence was commuted to life in prison after California banned the death penalty.
Photo: An undated handout photo made available by the FBI showing Sirhan Sirhan, in Los Angeles, California, USA, in 1968, who assassinated US Senator Robert Kennedy in the Ambassador Hotel in June 1968. EPA-EFE/FBI HANDOUT