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article imageSirhan Sirhan denied parole for 1968 slaying of Robert Kennedy

By Nathan Salant     Feb 11, 2016 in Crime
San Diego - Jordanian immigrant Sirhan Sirhan might not have fired the shot that killed U.S. Sen. Robert F. Kennedy (D-New York) in a Los Angeles hotel on the night of the 1968 California presidential primary.
If it were true that 13 shots were fired in the kitchen pantry that fateful night, and that the fatal bullet came from behind Kennedy — not in front of him, where Sirhan was standing with an 8-shot pistol — then it is almost certain that at least one other person was also shooting at the senator, even though Sirhan was still squeezing the trigger as bodyguards wrestled him to the floor.
But it is likely we will never know, not if the real story is different from the extensively investigated official narrative.
And that is true, at least partially, because Sirhan himself professes to not remember anything that happened on June 8, 1968, according to the Daily Mail newspaper in London.
Sirhan repeated his inability to remember several times Wednesday at a parole hearing at the Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility in San Diego.
The hearing was Sirhan's 15th parole hearing since being sentenced to die in 1969, only to have the penalty commuted to life in prison in 1972 when California temporarily eliminated the death penalty.
The killing of Kennedy, just five years after his brother, U.S. President John F. Kennedy, was assassinated in Dallas, likely had a profound effect on the national election in 1968.
Kennedy had been a late entry into the Democratic primary contest that year, after Wisconsin Sen. Eugene McCarthy's antiwar challenge to Vice President Hubert Humphrey had begun to fade.
After Kennedy's death, Humphrey was the Democratic nominee and Republican former Vice President Richard M. Nixon was elected president and continued to prosecute the controversial War in Vietnam until 1973.
The most dramatic testimony at Wednesday's parole hearing came from former United Auto Workers Union director Paul Schrade, now 91, who was walking with Kennedy at the Ambassador Hotel and also was shot in the barrage of gunfire.
Schrade apologized to Sirhan for not doing more over the years to get him freed and urged the parole panel to release him.
Schrade said he believes Sirhan shot him but that an unidentified second shooter killed Kennedy.
"I forgive you for shooting me," Schrade told Sirhan at the hearing.
"I should have been here long ago and that's why I feel guilty for not being here to help you and to help me," he said.
Sirhan nodded each time Schrade apologized.
The hearing was the first time Sirhan and Schrade had met since Sirhan's 1969 trial.
Commissioners questioned Sirhan for two hours about his failure to recall the assassination and concluded that he was not displaying adequate remorse, particularly given the enormity of his crime
"This crime impacted the nation, and I daresay it impacted the world," commissioner Brian Roberts said.
"It was a political assassination of a viable Democratic presidential candidate," Roberts said.
Sirhan said he remembered being at the hotel and going to his car, but then returning to the hotel when he realized he drank too much.
Sirhan said he met a woman and they were drinking coffee in the pantry when the shooting happened.
"It's all vague now," Sirhan told the commissioners.
"I'm sure you all have it in your records, I can't deny it or confirm it, I just wish this whole thing had never taken place," he said.
Sirhan said he felt badly for the victims but could not take responsibility for the shooting because he couldn't remember it.
'If you want a confession, I can't make it now," he said.
"Legally speaking, I'm not guilty of anything . . . It's not that I'm making light of it, I'm responsible for being there," Sirhan said.
Sirhan blamed statements he made at trial, such as "I did it for my country," on bad advice from his attorney.
As he was being led from the small prison conference room, Sirhan tried to shake Schrade's hand but was forced back by a guard, the newspaper said.
The 500-room Ambassador Hotel was torn down in 2005.
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