In November 1981, following a petition from L.A. County District Attorney John Van de Kamp, the parole board voted unanimously to consider rescinding 1984 parole date. By sheer coincidence, Van de Kamp was running for state Attorney General that year. Ten days of hearings followed in late April and early May 1982 and on May 22, Sirhan’s parole date was rescinded by the three-member panel.
As reported in the New York Times, the 1975 panel had ‘acted on the understanding that it was obligated to set a parole date for Mr. Sirhan, which it was not’ and had been unaware of two letters containing death threats from Sirhan:
One letter, dated Feb. 24, 1971, was written to Grant Cooper, Mr. Sirhan’s attorney at his 1969 trial. In it Mr. Sirhan wrote of Robert Blair Kaiser, a journalist who worked as an investigator for the defense and wrote a book about Mr. Sirhan: ”If he gets his brains splattered, he will have asked for it like Bobby Kennedy did. Kennedy didn’t scare me. Don’t think that you or Kaiser will.”
In another letter, written in April 1975 to Vern Smith, a prison employee, Mr. Sirhan complained of dental problems. ”When I panic at the loss of my teeth,” he wrote, ”I want you to rest assured that I’m going to kill you” and everyone else who was ”responsible for my continued torture.”
These were isolated outbursts that carried no real threat while Sirhan was in prison but when Kaiser testified on the second day of the 1982 hearing, he was quite spooked by the idea of Sirhan being released. Years later, when we met, he brushed off Sirhan’s note ‘as a piece of literary criticism – he didn’t like my book!’ The temper tantrum of a very frustrated human being, venting on Death Row. ‘Consider the circumstances…’ a regretful Sirhan later told David Frost in the clip below.
32 witnesses were called during the 1982 hearing, with most of the ten days wasted on ludicrous charges brought by the District Attorney’s office – which the panel dismissed – alleging Sirhan had told a rogue’s gallery of present and former convicts and con men that ‘he was involved in an escape plot and…that when released he would assassinate Senator Edward M. Kennedy…and steal plutonium for Libya.’
Today, I’m posting the full transcripts of the 1982 hearings here. The concluding day’s testimony appears below and features closing statements from Deputy D.A. Larry Trapp, Sirhan’s attorney Luke McKissack and Sirhan himself, where he addresses the threatening letters. In an election year, Sirhan didn’t think he had a chance of keeping his parole date but closed with the following:
I have had fourteen years to reflect on human life. I have spent agonising and trying times on death row where the question of life and living was in every thought…No person can feel better or richer in spirit for taking another person’s life. I sincerely believe that if Robert Kennedy were alive today, he would not countenance singling me out for this kind of treatment. I think he would be amongst the first to say that however horrible a deed I committed fourteen years ago, it should not be the cause for denying me equal treatment under the laws of this country.
‘He views himself as a political prisoner, not a political assassin,’ the parole panel concluded and he’s remained a political prisoner ever since. As Larry Trapp told the press after the 1983 hearing, ‘Political assassination in America must never be rewarded by freedom’.