OAKLAND — California Gov. Gavin Newsom said Tuesday he is not prepared to opine on whether the state should free Robert F. Kennedy's killer, Sirhan Sirhan, after the state parole board last week moved to grant the assassin's release from state prison.
Newsom pointed to a monthslong process that must still occur before he faces a decision on whether to allow for Sirhan's parole — if the governor survives the state's gubernatorial recall election in two weeks. But in his first remarks since the parole board's decision, Newsom declared "my reverence, my respect, and my adulation" for Kennedy, a Democratic icon who was murdered following his victory in the 1968 California presidential primary.
Two members of the state parole board on Friday moved to grant parole to Sirhan, who has spent 53 years in prison since he murdered Kennedy at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles.
The Democratic governor noted the parole board's decision hasn't been formalized and still must go to the full board before it comes to him for deliberation, which may not happen "for some time." He said that's one reason he has been "cautious” about commenting publicly, in order to "allow for the process."
But he added that "anybody that has ever walked into my office" will see prominent photographs of Kennedy, his political idol, including "those famous train photographs" of mourners alongside tracks as Kennedy's casket was transported by a funeral train.
"The first photograph, the only photograph you will see in my office is a photo of my father and Bobby Kennedy just days before Bobby Kennedy was murdered," Newsom said. "So, I hope that gives you a sense of my sentiments as it relates to Bobby Kennedy, in particular, my reverence, my respect and my adulation for his family and his memory.”
The prospect of Sirhan's release has already become a divisive issue. Six of Kennedy's 11 children expressed outrage at the possibility, while two of their siblings told the state board they support Sirhan's parole.
The decision came after Los Angeles County prosecutors declined to oppose Sirhan's parole under a policy by District Attorney George Gascón, a progressive who last year defeated a traditional DA incumbent amid rising social justice momentum.
The full state parole board has 90 days to review the decision and determine whether to send it to the governor, who would then have 30 days to act on the recommendation.
Two prominent Republican recall candidates, Larry Elder and Kevin Kiley, both said Saturday they would block Sirhan's release. Elder, a conservative who has led among GOP hopefuls, suggested it was the latest example of how he differs from Newsom.
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