Sirhan Sirhan, the man convicted of assassinating Sen. Robert F. Kennedy in 1968, was recently recommended for parole by the board of California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation after spending 53 years in prison. California’s governor will soon decide if the 77-year-old inmate can go free.
Robert F. Kennedy, the brother of assassinated President John F. Kennedy, was shot on June 6, 1968, while campaigning in Los Angeles during the 1968 presidential campaign.
Two of Kennedy’s surviving sons, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and Douglas Kennedy, publicly supported the release during Sirhan’s 16th appearance before the parole board. But several of Kennedy’s other children and his widow, Ethel, opposed the release, CNN reported.
Sirhan got special help this time around when applying for parole. He was mentored through the process by notorious Death Row Records founder Suge Knight and incarcerated Mafia heads, The Intercept reported. Knight is serving 28 years for manslaughter.
Sirhan, who has long claimed that he has no memory of the moment Kennedy was killed, admitted to bringing a loaded gun to the presidential candidate’s California primary victory party in 1968.
This time around, at the prompting of Knight, Sirhan took a different approach for his appearance before the parole board. Instead of being combative, he accepted responsibility for Kennedy’s death and stopped defending his action, The Intercept reported.
Sirhan was originally sentenced to death, but his sentence was commuted to life in prison with the possibility of parole when California briefly outlawed the death penalty in 1972.
A team of fellow prisoners coached and mentored Sirhan through a prisoner-run organization called Redemption Row. In addition to Knight, mentors included Joel Baptiste, a former leading figure in the Aryan Brotherhood imprisoned for life for murder; Mexican mafia leader Arturo Guzman; Roque Martinez, a top boss in the Nuestra Familia crime syndicate; Cameron Morris, a former member of the Crips; and Michael Goodwin, convicted in the high-profile killing of Mickey Thompson and his wife in the couple’s driveway, The Intercept reported. The “mentors” even conducted mock parole board hearings with Sirhan to prepare him.
Being something of an anti-celebrity, Knight counseled Sirhan about the experience of being globally despised. “I’m a global villain myself. People think I killed Tupac, and that was Tupac. You killed a Kennedy,” Knight told Sirhan, who is a Palestinian immigrant.
“Suge has to carry that,” said Baptiste, who has become friends with the former rap mogul, in a phone interview from prison. “He was able to talk to Sirhan about, I know what it’s like being ‘the guy,’ being hated or blamed for this or that, oftentimes erroneously. He was able to identify with him on that level. The biggest thing you can do for a man in prison is look at him and say you’re not alone, man, you’re not alone, I’m standing with you, and we’re going to do this process and do it together.”
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