By Paul LeBlanc, CNN
“Our family and our country suffered an unspeakable loss due to the inhumanity of one man,” Kennedy, 93, said in a statement of Sirhan Sirhan, who was convicted of assassinating her husband in 1968. “We believe in the gentleness that spared his life, but in taming his act of violence, he should not have the opportunity to terrorize again.”
“He should not be paroled,” she said.
While a two-person California parole panel recommended parole for Sirhan, the decision is not final. The board’s decision could be reversed by Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom, who will determine if the grant is consistent with public safety, a process that could take a few months.
Two of Kennedy’s surviving sons, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and Douglas Kennedy, supported the release during Sirhan’s 16th appearance before the parole board, yet several others in the family have strongly opposed the move.
“Given today’s unexpected recommendation by the California parole board after 15 previous decisions to deny release, we feel compelled to make our position clear. We adamantly oppose the parole and release of Sirhan Sirhan and are shocked by a ruling that we believe ignores the standards for parole of a confessed, first-degree murderer in the state of California,” said a statement last month from Kennedy’s children Joseph P., Courtney, Kerry, Christopher, Maxwell and Rory.
“But beyond just us, six of Robert Kennedy’s nine surviving children, Sirhan Sirhan committed a crime against our nation and its people. He took our father from our family and he took him from America,” they wrote.
Sirhan shot Kennedy in the kitchen of the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles following a campaign event in which Kennedy celebrated primary victories in his run for the Democratic nomination for president in 1968.
Sirhan was sentenced to death for the murder, but his punishment was commuted to life in prison in 1972 after the California Supreme Court declared the death penalty unconstitutional.
Angela Berry, Sirhan’s attorney, provided sentencing memorandums focusing on her client’s youth at the time of the murder — he was 24 — and his childhood. Describing Sirhan as a Palestinian who became a refugee at age 4, the memorandums say he “witnessed atrocities most of us only see in movies or in our worst nightmares” before immigrating to the US as a teenager.
At last month’s hearing, Sirhan was asked what he would say about people who believe he’s angry after decades behind bars.
“I disagree with them outright,” he said. “I’m grateful for having my life spared from the gas chamber. I value my life so much. … I would never put myself in jeopardy again.”
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CNN’s Ray Sanchez and Cheri Mossburg contributed to this report.