RFK’s Killer Becomes a Factor in Two Recall Campaigns

Fifty-three years after he fired a .22 into Robert F. Kennedy, Sirhan Sirhan has been granted parole. The 77-year-old assassin could soon walk free following last month’s ruling from a two-person panel — that is, if Gov. Gavin Newsom grants his release.

“Will Gavin Newsom release Robert Kennedy’s killer?” asks CalMatters columnist Dan Walters. (No pressure there.) Walters notes that Newsom previously refused to block the parole of David Weidert, who spent four decades in prison after burying a man alive.

“Although Newsom had blocked other paroles, the Weidert case drew sharp criticism, particularly from those who are asking voters to short-circuit Newsom’s governorship via a recall election,” he writes.

Constitutional law expert Laurence Tribe is among those calling on Newsom to help keep Sirhan behind bars. Though there are more salient issues in the recall campaign against Newsom, the question of Sirhan’s fate has quickly become a factor. Fortunately for the governor, he won’t get a chance to take any action until after the election.

Sirhan’s fate is looming over the effort to recall LA County District Atty. George Gascón too. His office was notably absent from the parole hearing due to a December directive that prohibits LA prosecutors from attending. It’s one of the many controversial actions cited by victims' rights groups and the Gascón recall campaign.

“The role of a prosecutor and their access to information ends at sentencing," Alex Bastian, special advisor to Gascón, said in a statement.

Fellow prosecutors disagree.

“This is one of the most notorious political assassinations in U.S. history and the killer is being considered for release without benefit of a representative on behalf of the people of California," said El Dorado County DA Vern Pierson, who serves as president of the California District Attorney's Association.

"It’s a deviation from historical precedent. Over the last 50 years in every county in California including Los Angeles, DAs routinely appear in these hearings to provide information to the parole board. Even in San Francisco, where the DA is considered by most to be the most progressive, prosecutors regularly appear at lifer hearings. There’s a saying that 90% of life is showing up—Robert F. Kennedy was a visionary Attorney General and historical giant, yet Gascón cannot even bother to show up?"

San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan concurred.

“My office would never abandon our legal duties to represent a victim whose voice is forever silenced by murder,” she said.

"Robert F. Kennedy served honorably as U.S. Attorney General where he fought for civil rights and dignity and fought against organized crime and corruption," she continued. "Senator Kennedy, along with any victim of crime, deserves to have the DA represent them as well as protect the safety and wellbeing of the people they are sworn to protect."

Robert F. Kennedy’s assassination altered the course of American politics five decades ago. It could continue shaping political outcomes today.


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