Newsom denies parole of RFK assassin Sirhan Sirhan

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California Gov. Gavin Newsom has blocked the release from prison of Robert Kennedy's assassin Sirhan Sirhan, whose fatal shots half a century ago rocked America and redirected history.

The Democratic governor said he had determined that Sirhan posed too great a threat to public safety, citing Sirhan's declining to accept responsibility for the crime or to renounce violence.

“Mr. Sirhan’s assassination of Senator Kennedy is among the most notorious crimes in American history,” Newsom said in a statement. “After decades in prison, he has failed to address the deficiencies that led him to assassinate Senator Kennedy. Mr. Sirhan lacks the insight that would prevent him from making the same types of dangerous decisions he made in the past.”

A parole panel last year recommended Sirhan's liberation, more than half a century after he shot down Kennedy in Los Angeles during the Democrat's presidential campaign in 1968. While parole board members pointed to Sirhan's self-improvement and new laws that required them to consider his current health and his youth at the time of the crime, the decision was ultimately in Newsom's hands.

That choice split both the public and the Kennedy family. While two of Kennedy's surviving children backed Sirhan's release, with Robert F. Kennedy Jr. embracing the theory that Sirhan was innocent, the majority of Kennedy's family — including Kennedy's widow — urged Newsom to keep Sirhan incarcerated. The latter group lauded Newsom on Thursday.

"His decision represents the vindication of the rule of law over all who would betray it with hatred and violence," said Ethel Kennedy, Joseph P. Kennedy II, Courtney Kennedy, Kerry Kennedy, Christopher Kennedy, Maxwell Kennedy and Rory Kennedy in a statement. "By reaffirming that freedom is dependent on responsibility, the Governor protects Californians and people around the world—and that is in the tradition, and faithful to the legacy, of Robert Kennedy. "

Newsom’s decision carried both profound national implications and a wrenching personal dimension. The Democratic governor reveres Kennedy as a personal hero, keeping images of the former U.S. attorney general and presidential candidate in his office and his home.

The governor has acknowledged the case’s deep resonance for many people, saying he was inundated with messages from people both taking positions on Sirhan and reliving their memories of the turbulent era in which Kennedy was killed.

“This is very raw emotionally,” Newsom said last year, because it stirs up “memories of that time” that some people “may want to suppress, understandably.”

Newsom telegraphed his inclination on Wednesday by noting most of Kennedy's family felt differently than Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who supported Sirhan's release.

"The overwhelming majority of the Shriver and Kennedy family members are opposed to Mr. Sirhan’s release,” Newsom said.

It is not uncommon for Newsom to override parole boards in murder cases. He has reversed decisions to release inmates more than 150 times since he became governor, including repeatedly declined to parole associates of former cult leader Charles Manson.

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