Legacy Endures For Injustice Fighter William Pepper After April Death

 

MLK, RFK Supporter Dared Challenge Official Assassination Accounts

Dr. William (Bill) F. Pepper, an international civil and human rights attorney best known for defending the innocence of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s accused assassin, James Earl Ray, died at age 86 in New York City on April 7, 2024, after a long series of illnesses.

william pepper headshotPepper, shown at left in a file photo, had become a friend and close collaborator of King before King's 1968 assassination and then undertook Ray's defense post-conviction at the request of King Family members after Pepper's own independent investigation persuaded him that Ray had been framed to hide the guilt of King's actual killers. 

Pepper's investigation, three books on the topic (the first, Act of State, shown below right) and other advocacy proved controversial. But the controversies failed to deter him from similar legal representation of Sirhan Sirhan, advocating the innocence of the convicted murderer of 1968 Presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy, whom Pepper also had strongly supported william pepper act of statein 1960s politics.

Late in life, Pepper, who served as both a director and counsel of the Justice Integrity Project, brought this editor/attorney into his orbit on several of his projects, including legal representation of Sirhan's so-far unsuccessful effort to win parole.

As a result, Pepper's widow, Mina Nguyen-Pepper, invited me to undertake three readings at his funeral service in Harlem on April 27, 2024. Among the readings was that of a letter the family had received the previous day from Dr. Bernice A. King, the youngest daughter of the slain civil rights leader and his late widow, Coretta Scott King. The letter from Bernice King, now CEO of the King Center in Atlanta, GA, reproduced below, stated the daughter's belief that Pepper had exhibited the rarest combination of bravery, skill and effectiveness in researching the true cause of her father's death and identifying those responsible.

The materials below, which include this author's personal perspectives, seek to preserve Pepper's legacy and inspire others by recreating below elements of the service. The service was enhanced by a series of powerful speakers, including Pepper's widow, daughter and pastor, who described Pepper's is personal and civic qualities in the historical framework of the ongoing global struggle for human rights.

william pepper mlk

 William F. Pepper, left, and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. confer at the headtable of the 1967 National Conference for New Politics civil rights and anti-war conference.

 

 

 

Materials Below

 

  • Funeral Service Program
  • william pepper plot to kill 2016Homily: Father Frank Morales
  • Remembrances, Including by Justice Integrity Project Editor Andrew Kreig
  • Link To New York Times obituary.
  • Letter from Dr. Bernice A. King, CEO of The King Center, Atlanta, GA
  • Film of the Pepper Funeral Service at Benta's Funeral Home and at Woodlawn Cemetery (https://drive.google.com/file/d/1aPdT52jExPGePBn-UI_sa1Q8PgqBmmQ2/view)
  • Relevant Historical News Clippings

 

 

  • Funeral Service Program

 

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 Shown below in the funeral program along with a photo of Dr. Pepper's wife and daughter is one of his poems, entitled "The Treasure."

william pepper funeral p4

Editor's Note: The services were enormously enhanced by the talents of Benta's Funeral Home Minister of Music Alson Farley in leading inspirational hymns and by the generosity of donors, most notably Entertainments Studios Founder Byron Allen, who made it possible for the deceased to be laid to rest in a plot adjoining that of his parents in Woodlawn Cemetery in The Bronx, and Nicholas Martin, who arranged for 80 copies of "The Plot To Kill King" for attendees of the funeral service.

 

  • Homily: Father Frank Morales

My friends, I greet you in the name of all that is Good, all that is Just, in the name of God who is the source of Love and Justice. And I want to thank you for your presence here this morning and pray that the Holy Spirit guide and protect you and yours and keep you safe.

My friends, Bill Pepper was a friend of mine. And we’ve come together on this sad occasion to mourn the loss of a brother, a father, a husband and a friend, and a comrade in the struggle for freedom and liberation, and truth.

And we want to extend our deepest condolences to Bill’s family, present with us here today, to his wife Mina and their daughter Lilly, who indeed were the apple of his eye, and to all of you. And to say that indeed, though this is a sad occasion, we also want to celebrate and give thanks for the life and the righteous witness of William Francis Pepper.

The words from 1 John this morning read by Mina fit well the occasion.

“Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.” For me, these words of scripture pretty much sum up the life of Bill Pepper. Struggling in his final years to breathe, to walk even, still he summoned the grit to keep doing his work, right up until the end, his work which he called his Mission, which was to uncover the truth of our predicament. But first and foremost to seek justice for his brother in arms, Martin Luther King, who did indeed lay down his life for his friends. And in a sense, so did Bill, sacrificing much, like many of you, who commit to the struggle for truth in a nation ruled by lies.

Bill’s laser sharp mind sought out the truth in regard to our national sins; particularly, the assassinations that stuck a knife in the side of democracy in this country. Indeed, the assassinations of JFK and Malcolm, of RFK and John Lennon. But particularly, it was the murder of the Reverend King that touched him most. Bill befriended Reverend King in 1967 at the height of the Vietnam war. His article on the horrific suffering of the children of Vietnam, the burnt victims of Dow Chemical company napalm dropped on them by US airmen, impacted Reverend King so forcefully that he was inspired to speak out against that war, following his wife Coretta, who’d been active in the peace movement for some time. From the pulpit of Riverside Church, Reverend King articulated clearly and forcefully the connection between imperialist war, racism and poverty at home.

Following the 1968 state execution of Reverend King, Bill never stopped digging for the truth regarding the actual circumstances of Reverend Kings’ ghastly murder. And more broadly, he never ceased fighting against the injustice, the racism, and the violence that lie at the heart of this social system, a socio-economic system built on the predations of greed and white supremacy.

Gifted with a sharp intellect guided by an unshakable moral certitude, Bill cut through the BS and the cover-ups, the mainstream press’ mendacious narratives, and sought to expose its lies to the light of day, to the light of reason, within a system that tolerates and thrives on such lies.

Bill sought to pull it up all up by the roots, this sickness, cause it runs deep, and to cure it, and do so through speaking truth to power in his writing, his poetry, his speeches and interviews. And organizing with others around these truths. Organizing he learned about as a young man from Rev King, SNCC and the Civil Rights movement.

Jesus said the truth will set you free. In that regard, Bill Pepper was a freedom fighter. In other words, he was an old school revolutionary, not ashamed to still speak of and call for revolution, or as Martin King would say, a “revolution of values.”

In this new age of sheepish conformism that we’re living in, with its slavish obeisance to lies and fraud, a system that rewards pathological killers in high places, Bill pounded away at the war-makers, the lie-makers, facilitated by well paid congress people, who stifle justice at every turn, and who attempt to deceive us with their side show of divisiveness, which is just a sideshow, when in truth they are united repub-lo-crats in their unwavering support for the capitalist greed machine and its game plan, its plan of world domination via the barbaric machinations of the global Pentagon Inc. and it’s henchmen abroad.

I implore you to read what Bill had to say about these matters. He was a researcher and writer, an uncover-er; and in his lifelong quest to show us all what it is they want us to believe, he offered his own version of what is really going on. Not infallible, open to criticism if warranted and rational, Bill worked hard to make his case. And in most cases, he made a very good one! And let’s not forget his courage in doing so, speaking out in the face of threats in the course of his investigations which often took him right into the belly of the beast of white supremacy.

And the ridicule, being shut out by the mainstream press that have a pact to only print what fits, meanwhile slandering honest journalists and investigators as “conspiracy theorists” rather than folks simply seeking, oft times at great risk, the truth. So I encourage you to read Bill’s work with an open mind, and listen to his speeches and interviews, and do so while they're still available.

And I say, while they’re still available, cause in case you haven’t noticed (and I know most of you have) the corporate ceo’s who rule this country from behind the scenes have seen fit to use the maga christo-fascist hammer against us. And to do so in order stifle any and all resistance to their insanity, their wars and the oil bosses’ destruction of our Earth.

I say then we better wake the F up and smell the coffee! Or better yet, wake the others up, shine your light, like those students, and rouse the ones cowed in their fears, the ones with their heads in the sand, the ones profiting off the slaughter, the poverty and the suffering of the poor, mostly poor people of color, here and everywhere. And confront in Holy Judgment the ones with blood on their hands!

Jesus said: “This is how we know what love is.” Laying down our lives for our sisters and brothers in need. Like those victims of the genocidal and obscene violence being unleashed against overwhelmingly unarmed, non-combatant, innocent Palestinian men, women and children! The obscenity of it all, facilitated by our tax dollars and weapons manufactured right here in the USA.

People of good conscience stare aghast at the killing fields and ask: “How can the love of God be in those people?” Well, it’s not. Quite the opposite. And Bill knew this and he’d want me to say it … he’s telling me to say it right now, to say it out loud! This war system, fueled by the blood of the innocents, is evil to the very core, to the core of hell, and it must be ended.

And that is why Bill sought to raise awareness around the call for a non-violent revolution, a people’s revolution brought about through direct action and non-violent civil disobedience, centered around a recasting of the basic laws of the land, a fresh and bold as love reworking of the Constitution through a Peoples’ Convention, so that our laws could be reflective of our true values as loving and caring human beings, as children created in the image of Goodness and Love, laws that mirror our moral perspective, where love trumps hate, and putting an end, once and for all, to the rule of violence in this nation and in this world.

“Dear children, let us not love with words or speech, but with actions and in truth.” Like I said, that pretty much sums up Bill. His words and his speech were his action. And now, he resides in a new land, a new life beyond death, an existence about which he spoke, even knowingly, busy now in his labor of love, in a celestial room reserved just for him to continue to do his work in, at one and at play with all the risen martyrs of injustice, the saints of compassion and unconditional love, and the blessed angels and activists for peace.

And all we can do now is to give thanks for his life long witness, give thanks for knowing him, give thanks for one another and the spirit to carry on in hope and determination to continue the fight. And remember, as in 1 Peter: “Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope.” So be prepared to do so. And do the best you can, and pick up the baton of freedom of life and love that William Pepper has passed on to you and I.

And against the evil in our world, let us spread the Good News of Truth, of divine and invincible truth if you will, and empowered by “the spirit of truth that abides” within each and every one of us, struggle for justice. For that is where God is. And Bill believed that too. Just like he and Reverend King believed, that one day, “we shall overcome.” And we will. Believe it! Trust in the Creator’s plan! Take it to heart!

And so my friends, let us pray in our own way for the repose of the soul of our brother William Francis Pepper, who has run his course, has crossed the finish line with arms raised aloft to heaven, and who now resides in the precincts of the Most High, at rest from his labors, a humble soul at peace, and for this we give thanks, Amen.

 

  • Remembrances, Including by Justice Integrity Project Editor Andrew Kreig (Below)

Our Brother Bill, the son of Irish immigrants, earned scholarships to attend the elite Trinity School, founded in 1709 in Manhattan, and Columbia University, founded in 1754 by the same Trinity Church.

Bill could have leveraged his talents into traditional establishment circles and careers, including what he has described to nelson rockefellerme as a rare personal invitation in 1964 by New York’s wealthy and powerful Governor Nelson Rockefeller, right, to become politically connected to the top by persuading a community group Bill led as a young man in Westchester, New York, to endorse the incumbent U.S. senator in a Senate race that year instead of the challenger, Robert F. Kennedy. Bill chose Kennedy, the path he regarded as pro-reform and pro-human rights.

That’s the path he chose so often in his brilliant career that soon took him to the Vietnam War as a free-lance writer focused on suffering children.

In an irony of historic significance, his focus on injustice placed him in the position of advocating for the convicted killers of two of his heroes, RFK and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr,. both of them gunned down in 1968 by assassins. Following close study, Bill became convinced that Sirhan Sirhan [still imprisoned] and James Earl Ray [who died in 1998] had been framed and did not fire the fatal shots.

Bill bravely undertook his advocacy and truth-seeking mission in defiance of conventional wisdom. Notably, it was with the support of important members of both the King and Kennedy families.

As one who came to work with him closely in his later years, let me share that he never wavered from his commitment to expose these and other injustices. Many times -- even in his ill health of recent years -- he would call me at my Washington, DC office with a newproject or urgent request to help get a U.S. senator or reporter to focus more on a new injustice or potential reform coming to his attention. He remained a true advocate for America’s constitutional and democratic values even while shining a light on the very darkest spaces. And he had no patience for what he regarded as poorly researched, negative name-calling, including what some might call “conspiracy theories” unsupported by facts.

So it was a particular injustice that his New York Times obituary includes the unfounded name-calling of “conspiracy” in describing his own brave and thoughtful works.

Right now, I’m going to read a beautiful letter received yesterday from a far better witness than the New York Times to Dr. Pepper’s life and legacy. This is from Dr. Bernice King, the youngest daughter of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Coretta Scott King. Since 2012, Bernice King has served as CEO of the King Center in Atlanta.

[King Letter, shown below].

In closing, I ask each of you, as she did, to recommit in your hearts to embrace human rights and the finer traditions of our country, as did MLK, RFK, Bill Pepper and so many other fallen heroes. This means in part an active commemoration of their spirit, including rejection of shabby research and politics. It means also, I think, holding dear those around us. These include Bill’s family, his beloved Mini and Lilly, who are with us here and his son, Sean Pepper, with whom I used to work on projects led by his father. Please keep them in your thoughts and hearts, not just today, but going forward. Looking further ahead, may Bill’s spirit, legacy and your own continuing commitments keep inspiring us to keep doing our part for a better world.

Other Remembrances Included Those By:

  • Lilly Pepper
  • Anthony Williams
  • Ambassador Dang Hoang Giang to the United Nations from the Permanent Mission of the Socialist Republic of Viet Nam via Counsellor to the Ambassador Vu Thi Mai Lien
  • Karen Karbiener

 

  • Link To New York Times obituary

ny times logoNew York Times, William F. Pepper, 86, Dies; Claimed the Government Killed Dr. King, Clay Risen, April 23, 2024 (print ed.). He represented James Earl Ray and the King family in efforts to prove that Dr. King was the victim of a conspiracy, becoming a celebrity among the conspiracy-minded.

William F. Pepper, who was the central figure in a decades-long effort to prove that the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther Jr. was killed william pepper plot to kill 2016not by a lone gunman but by a vast government plot, a controversial stance that made him something of a celebrity among the country’s teeming subculture of conspiracy theorists, died on April 7 in Manhattan. He was 86.

His wife, Mina Nguyen-Pepper, said the cause of his death, in a hospital, was pneumonia. He lived in Manhattan.

James Earl Ray shot and killed Dr. King in Memphis on April 4, 1968. He was arrested two months later at Heathrow Airport in London, just before boarding a flight to Brussels and eventually to Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), which at the time was under white rule.

Mr. Ray pleaded guilty in order to avoid execution, and therefore did not go on trial. But he recanted soon after his conviction, and he spent the rest of his life claiming that he was innocent, himself a victim of a plot to kill Dr. King.

More than anyone else, it was Mr. Pepper, a lawyer, who kept Mr. Ray’s campaign alive long after Mr. Ray’s death in 1998. After taking on Mr. Ray as a client in 1988, he pressed the case across a variety of avenues, including courtrooms, the news media, a television special and three books [Most recently, The Plot To Kill King, above].

 

  • Letter from Dr. Bernice A. King, CEO of The King Center, Atlanta, GA

 

King Center Letter To Pepper Family 4 26 2024

 

 

  • Relevant Historical News Clippings

James Earl Ray Conviction in Martin Luther King Jr. Death 

William Pepper The Plot To Kill King"For one bright moment back in the late 1960s, we actually believed that we could change our country. We had identified the enemy. We saw it up close, we had its measure, and we were very hopeful that we would prevail. The enemy was hollow where we had substance. All of that substance was destroyed by an assassin’s bullet."

William Pepper (Page 15, The Plot to Kill King)

Justice Integrity Project "Readers Guide to the MLK Assassination"

  1. Martin Luther King at NPCReaders Guide To The MLK Assassination: Books, Videos, Archives, curated by Andrew Kreig, May 26, 2016. The Justice Integrity Project presents a "Readers Guide to the MLK Assassination" of key books, videos, documents, websites and other archives most relevant to the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s murder on April 4, 1968.
  2. Legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Enhanced By Historic Discovery, Jan. 18, 2016. The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy is forever enhanced by discovery of a 24-minute recording of his first meeting with the national media, which occurred during a 1962 speech that was the first ever by an African American at the National Press Club in Washington, DC.
  3. William Pepper, Friend of MLK, RFK, Slams Murder Cover-ups, June 1, 2016. Murder of political leaders is a common problem, according to noted historian and human rights attorney William Pepper, who believes cover-up ruins the legacy of his friends Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy.

 

Justice Integrity Project "Readers Guide to the RFK Assassination"

Sirhan Sirhan Conviction in Robert F. Kennedy Death

Readers Guide To RFK Assassination: Books, Videos, Archives, Curated by Andrew Kreig, As of May 30, 2016, With Updates.

2023

 

Sirhan Sirhan ap escorted in court small

washington post logoWashington Post, Sirhan Sirhan, Robert F. Kennedy’s assassin, denied parole again, Andrew Jeong, March 3, 2023 (print ed.). Sirhan Sirhan — who is serving a life sentence for the 1968 assassination of Sen. Robert F. Kennedy — was denied parole by a California panel on Wednesday, despite his attorney’s assertion that the 78-year-old should be freed because he is unlikely to be a threat to the public.

The decision came after a hearing at the Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility in San Diego, where Sirhan is being held. A parole board ruled that Sirhan still had not shown insight into what led him to shoot the senator, then a presidential candidate, during a campaign event at a Los Angeles hotel.

Wednesday’s recommendation contradicted a decision by a different parole board two years ago that Sirhan should be eligible for release, which was struck down by California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D).

Under the state’s penal code, the governor can ask California’s Board of Parole Hearings to review a parole panel decision. In murder cases, the governor can reverse or modify the board’s decision without referring the case back to the board.

In a statement, Sirhan’s attorney Angela Berry expressed concern that the board had been swayed by Newsom, who overruled the previous recommendation in 2022 and has argued that Sirhan has not been rehabilitated.

She also argued against the idea that her client lacked “sufficient insight” into his actions, citing psychiatric evaluations dating back to 1975 and the 2021 parole hearing.

In an op-ed published in the Los Angeles Times last year, Newsom said Sirhan had “not developed the accountability and insight required to support his safe release into his community.”

Sirhan, a Palestinian Christian who emigrated with his family to the United States from Jordan, fatally shot Kennedy as he was leaving the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles, shortly after the senator won California’s Democratic presidential primary. Five others were also injured in the shooting, and Kennedy died the next day.

Sirhan was convicted of first-degree murder and assault with intent to murder and was initially sentenced to death, but that sentence was later reduced to life with the possibility of parole.

Since 1975, Sirhan has been eligible for release more than a dozen times.

 2021

Sept. 7

Fox News, RFK's widow, Ethel Kennedy, objects to Sirhan Sirhan's release: ‘He should not be paroled,’ Louis Casiano, Sept. 7, 2021. 2 of Kennedy's sons have spoken in favor of Sirhan's release.

sirhan sirhan 2016Ethel Kennedy, the widow of Robert F. Kennedy, said Tuesday that she is opposed to the release of Sirhan Sirhan, right, the man imprisoned and recently recommended for parole in the 1968 killing of her husband.

"Our family and our country suffered an unspeakable loss due to the inhumanity of one man," she said. "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."

At the end of the letter, Kennedy hand-wrote: "He should not be paroled."

Two of Kennedy's sons – Douglas Kennedy and Robert F. Kennedy Jr. – said they support Sirhan's parole. The board recommendation still needs approval from Gov. Gavin Newsom.

Sept. 5

whowhatwhy logoWhoWhatWhy, Investigation: Sirhan May Go Free — But Truth on the Kennedy Assassinations Remains Locked Up, Russ Baker and Milicent Cranor, Sept. 5, 2021. The possible parole of Sirhan Sirhan — convicted of assassinating Robert F. Kennedy and imprisoned for more than half a century — reminds us that disturbing questions still remain about what really happened in the pantry of Los Angeles’s Ambassador Hotel shortly after midnight on June 5, 1968.

The official story states that Sirhan was a militant Palestinian Christian, driven to murder the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee over his support of Israel. According to this view, anything suspicious about Sirhan’s identification as RFK’s sole killer can be explained away as inconsequential details; probing deeper into the killing is self-indulgent conspiracy theorizing, and releasing Sirhan now would be an affront to justice.

Many of us pride ourselves on being “pro-science” and are appalled by those who react reflexively to almost any “establishment” narrative with suspicion and counter-theories. COVID-19 and climate change come to mind.

Russ Baker is editor-in-chief of WhoWhatWhy. He is an award-winning investigative journalist who specializes in exploring power dynamics behind major events.

Milicent Cranor is a senior editor at WhoWhatWhy. She was a creative editor at E.P. Dutton; comedy ghostwriter; co-author of numerous peer-reviewed articles for medical journals; and editor of consequential legal and scientific documents.

Sept. 1

ny times logoNew York Times, Opinion: The Man Who Murdered My Father Doesn’t Deserve Parole, Rory Kennedy (a documentary filmmaker and the youngest child of Robert Kennedy, right, the New York senator and presidential candidate assassinated in June 1968), Sept. 1, 2021.

I never met my father. When Sirhan Sirhan murdered him in the kitchen hallway of the Ambassador Hotel in front of scores of witnesses, my mother was three months pregnant with me. Of my 10 older brothers and sisters, Robert F. KennedyKathleen, the eldest, was 16, and Douglas, the youngest, was little more than 1. I was born six months after my father’s death.

My mother and the majority of my siblings agree with what I now write, although a couple do not. But I will say, for myself, while that night of terrible loss has not defined my life, it has had impact beyond measure.

In 1969, when Mr. Sirhan was found guilty by a jury of his peers and sentenced to death, I was barely a toddler. I know, as it is part of the historical record, that my uncle Teddy sent a five-page handwritten letter to the district attorney in a last-minute plea to save the condemned assassin’s life. The letter invoked my father’s beliefs: “My brother was a man of love and sentiment and compassion. He would not have wanted his death to be a cause for the taking of another life.”

robert kennedy paul schrade maldef youtube

Sen. Robert F. Kennedy is shown at right campaigning in 1968's California primary with Paul Schrade, Western states director for the United Auto Workers and a close aide to the candidate. Schrade was shot non-fatally in the head at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles along with Kennedy in June 1968.

ny times logoNew York Times, Parole Board Urges Release of Sirhan Sirhan, Robert F. Kennedy’s Assassin, Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs, Aug. 28, 2021 (print ed.). Gov. Gavin Newsom, who is campaigning to win a recall election in California, can choose to uphold or reject the recommendation, which would free Mr. Sirhan after more than five decades.

California parole commissioners recommended on Friday that Sirhan B. Sirhan should be freed on parole after spending more than 50 years in prison for assassinating Robert F. Kennedy during his campaign for president.

The recommendation from the two commissioners does not necessarily mean Mr. Sirhan, 77, will walk free, but will most likely put his fate in the hands of Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat facing a recall election that will determine his political future. A spokeswoman for Mr. Newsom declined to say whether he would approve the recommendation, only that he would consider the case after it is reviewed by the parole board’s lawyers.

george gascon oThe parole hearing was the 16th time Mr. Sirhan had faced parole board commissioners, but it was the first time no prosecutor showed up to argue for his continued imprisonment. George Gascón, right, the progressive and divisive Los Angeles County district attorney who was elected last year (after working his way up from patrolman to San Francisco police chief), has made it a policy for prosecutors not to attend parole hearings, saying the parole board has all the facts it needs to make an informed decision.

At the hearing, which was conducted virtually because of the coronavirus pandemic, Mr. Sirhan said he had little memory of the assassination itself, but he said he “must have” brought the gun into the hotel.

“I take responsibility for taking it in and I take responsibility for firing the shots,” he said. Mr. Sirhan, much of his short hair turned white, was seated in front of a computer and wearing a blue uniform with a paper towel in his chest pocket.

Shortly after midnight on June 5, 1968, Kennedy gave a victory speech at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles following his victory in the Democratic primary in California. As Kennedy, a senator from New York, walked through the hotel’s pantry, Mr. Sirhan shot him with a revolver. Five other people around Kennedy were shot as well, but they all survived.

Kennedy died the next day, less than five years after President John F. Kennedy, one of his brothers, had been assassinated.

In a telephone interview, Douglas Kennedy, who is a correspondent for Fox News, said his family was split over Mr. Sirhan’s release. Emphasizing that he was speaking only for himself, he said he believed that Mr. Newsom should follow the recommendation of the parole board and release Mr. Sirhan.

He also said that seeing Mr. Sirhan at the hearing had made him feel more compassion for him.

“I spent my life sort of avoiding words like ‘killed,’ ‘assassin,’ ‘assassination,’ and Sirhan’s name in general,” said Mr. Kennedy, who was 1 at the time of his father’s assassination. “So I’m grateful for today’s hearing just to demystify some of that.”

In Friday’s statement, six of Kennedy’s nine surviving children said they were “devastated” by the recommendation that Mr. Sirhan be released.

They had largely avoided engaging in the parole process because of how traumatic their father’s death had been, they said, but felt compelled to denounce the recommendation, which they said caused “enormous additional pain.”

Many of the questions at the hearing focused on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and Mr. Sirhan at one point began crying when he spoke about refugees suffering in the Middle East.

“Whatever I would want to do in the future, it would be towards resolving that peacefully,” he said, but he also added that he wanted to “disengage” from the conflict because he was too old.

An odd coalition has urged prison officials to release Mr. Sirhan over the years, including those who say Mr. Sirhan has served his time and others who believe he is not the real assassin.

Though several investigations have determined that Mr. Sirhan was the lone gunman, and Mr. Sirhan has said the same, some have pursued a conspiracy theory that claims there was a different killer, citing what many say was a sloppy police investigation and varying theories about how many shots were fired and what the ballistic evidence shows.

Mr. Sirhan also said he was grateful to have been spared from execution and promised that he would live a peaceful life.

“Over half a century has passed and that young impulsive kid that I was does not exist anymore,” he said.

washington post logoWashington Post, California parole panel votes in favor of release from prison for Sirhan Sirhan, Tom Jackman (shown at right), Aug. 28, 2021 (print ed.). Parole for 77-year-old convicted tom jackmanof assassinating Robert F. Kennedy still must be approved by full board, governor.

A California parole board panel on Friday voted in favor of Sirhan B. Sirhan’s request for release from prison on parole, 53 years after he was arrested and convicted of the assassination of Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, finding that he was no longer a threat to society, according to Sirhan’s brother, one of Kennedy’s sons and one of Sirhan’s surviving victims.

It was Sirhan’s 16th parole hearing. Since California abolished capital punishment in 1972, and Sirhan’s sentence was reduced to life, he has been eligible for release since 1975. The decision by the two-person panel will be reviewed by the full parole board for 90 days before it is final. Then the California governor, currently Gavin Newsom (D) who is facing a recall election which ends on Sept. 14, will have 30 days to uphold the decision, reverse it, or send it back to the board.

Paul Schrade was one of five people who were wounded in the shooting as they walked behind Kennedy, and Schrade has long believed that Sirhan shot him, but did not shoot Kennedy. After the ruling, Schrade said, “I’m pleased that we’ve done this for Sirhan because he didn’t deserve all of the very bad behavior from the prison system," meaning repeated parole denials, "and prosecutors and police. He was innocent and didn’t deserve this for 53 years.”

The Guardian, Sirhan Sirhan: six Kennedy children condemn decision to grant killer parole, Martin Pengelly, Aug. 28, 2021. Two children of assassinated Senator Robert F Kennedy support California decision, which may be reversed.

Six children of Robert F. Kennedy have condemned the decision to grant parole to Sirhan Sirhan, the man who shot and killed the New York senator as he ran for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1968.

“He took our father from our family and he took him from America,” the six said in a statement late on Friday. “We are in disbelief that this man would be recommended for release.”

The statement was signed by Joseph P Kennedy II, Courtney Kennedy, Kerry Kennedy, Christopher G Kennedy, Maxwell T Kennedy and Rory Kennedy.

Two Kennedy children supported the decision. Douglas Kennedy, a toddler when his father was killed, said he was “overwhelmed just by being able to view Mr Sirhan face to face. I’ve lived my life both in fear of him and his name in one way or another. And I am grateful today to see him as a human being worthy of compassion and love.”

Robert F. KennedyRobert F. Kennedy, right, was US attorney general under his older brother, John F Kennedy, when the president was assassinated in Dallas in 1963. Five years later the younger Kennedy was a senator from New York when he was killed at the Ambassador hotel in Los Angeles, moments after delivering a victory speech in the California primary. Five others were wounded.

Sirhan, now 77, insists he does not remember the shooting and had been drinking beforehand but was convicted of first-degree murder. He was sentenced to death, commuted to life when the California supreme court briefly outlawed capital punishment.

The hearing on Friday was his 16th attempt to gain parole. Because of laws passed in 2018, the board was required to take into account the fact that Sirhan suffered childhood trauma from the conflict in the Middle East, committed the offense at a young age and is now elderly.

Appearing by video from a San Diego county prison, Sirhan said: “Senator Kennedy was the hope of the world … and I harmed all of them and it pains me to experience that, the knowledge for such a horrible deed, if I did in fact do that.”

 

thomas noguchi with quote latest smallFamed coroner Thomas Noguchi (shown above in a graphic prepared by the Justice Integrity Project) found that Kennedy had been shot three times at point-blank range from the back, with a fourth shot passing through his jacket without striking him, though witnesses said Sirhan was in front of Kennedy. Noguchi determined the shots were fired from a distance of three inches.

Sirhan’s lawyers moved Noguchi off the stand quickly without raising the issue of the gunshots. The defense also did not raise the issue of apparent multiple bullet holes found in the ceiling and door frames of the pantry, in addition to those which struck Kennedy and five other victims, possibly indicating more than the eight bullets that Sirhan’s gun held were fired.

A jury convicted Sirhan in April 1969 and sentenced him to death. When California eliminated the death penalty, Sirhan was resentenced to life. California has since reinstated the death penalty, but has a labyrinthine appeals process and rarely executes anyone.

The conviction was a source of controversy in Los Angeles almost immediately after it was handed down, after a weekly newspaper pointed out the bullet holes indicating more than eight shots were fired. The Los Angeles police then destroyed the ceiling tiles and door frames where the holes had been seen, though the case was still on appeal.

Beginning in the 1970s, surviving victim Paul Schrade became involved in pushing for further investigation, citing ballistics tests done on Sirhan’s gun which showed that bullets test fired from the gun did not match the bullets pulled from Kennedy and two other victims. He also cited a recording made from the hotel ballroom where Kennedy had just spoken, on which some analysts say 13 shots can be heard, while others say only eight shots were recorded.

washington post logoWashington Post, Sirhan Sirhan, convicted of RFK assassination, seeks parole with no opposition from prosecutors, Tom Jackman, right, Aug. 26, 2021. Sirhan B. tom jackmanSirhan, convicted of the 1968 assassination of Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, will face a California parole board for the 16th time Friday in a prison outside San Diego. But unlike the first 15 times, no prosecutor will stand to oppose the release of Sirhan, who is now 77.

Newly elected Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón told The Washington Post shortly before his inauguration in December that he was creating a sentencing review unit to revisit the cases of about 20,000 prisoners for possible resentencing, analyzing both the fairness of long sentences and the cost savings for releasing low-risk or older inmates. Gascón issued a directive that his office’s “default policy” would be not to attend parole hearings and to submit letters supporting the release of some inmates who had served their mandatory minimums, while also assisting victims and victim advocates at parole hearings if requested.

 

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