The Full Story of Sirhan’s Hearing

Today, I published a detailed report on Sirhan’s parole hearing at WhoWhatWhy.org. You can read an excerpt below and continue reading on their site. This wraps up my coverage of Sirhan’s parole hearing until the official transcript is published in the next four weeks or so, when I’ll back with more details:

Sirhan Parole

The ban on video and audio recordings at Sirhan Sirhan’s parole hearing on February 9 meant the world depended on the one reporter allowed inside the hearing to tell us what happened. He had to condense “more than three hours of intense testimony” into 854 words.

Elliot Spagat’s lively account of the proceeding for the Associated Press omitted one very important document that shooting victim and Kennedy family friend Paul Schrade presented to the parole board. This was a letter from Robert F. Kennedy Jr. to US Attorney General Eric Holder, dated September 25, 2012, supporting Schrade’s request for a new investigation of his father’s murder:

Paul was a close friend and advisor to my father. He was standing beside my father when Daddy was killed and Paul was himself wounded by a bullet. With boundless energy and clear mind, Paul continues to pursue my father’s ideas, an endeavor to which he has devoted his life. He organized with the support of my mother and my family the building of the new Robert F. Kennedy Community Schools on the former Ambassador Hotel site. Paul and his team…strongly believe this new evidence is conclusive and requires a new investigation. I agree and support his request for a new investigation.

Read more here

Sirhan Sirhan with attorney William Pepper

Sirhan Sirhan with attorney William Pepper

Denied again

Sadly but predictably, Sirhan Sirhan was denied parole for the 15th time yesterday in San Diego. I’ll post full reaction soon but for now, here are the pool images shot by the AP photographer at the hearing and two reports from the ABC affiliate in San Diego featuring reaction from Paul Schrade and Sirhan’s attorney William Pepper.

You can watch further reaction from Paul Schrade in reports from the NBC station in San Diego and the ABC affiliate in Los Angeles.

Who, What, Why

RFK Friend to Raise Doubts About Sirhan Guilt at Parole Hearing

On the eve of Sirhan Sirhan’s parole hearing, I just published a lengthy article at Who What Why about Paul Schrade’s courageous appearance before the panel and the history of injustice in Sirhan’s parole process. Since 1982, California has treated Sirhan like a political prisoner who will never be released, not a human being who has served his time and has the right to a fair hearing and the rule of law.

Two weeks ago, I asked the Board of Parole Hearings for the legal justification behind their ban on video and audio recordings of tomorrow’s hearing. They still haven’t given me an answer and this high-handed, unaccountable approach was reflected in Sirhan’s treatment by the commissioners at his last hearing. The absence of cameras tightens their control around a political prisoner they don’t want to public to see.

As the clips of the 2011 hearing I’ve posted recently illustrate, Sirhan is intelligent, articulate, remorseful and at 71 years old, a danger to nobody.

Sirhan’s attorneys

While he was on Death Row, Sirhan Sirhan memorably wrote his trial attorney Grant Cooper: “Don’t ever forget, you dirty son of a bitch that you cost me my life.” Cooper later testified for Sirhan at his 1982 rescission hearing and put Sirhan’s comments down to his mental state at the time (see transcript of Cooper’s testimony below, from page 104). While I can’t justify Sirhan’s turn of phrase, it’s true that Cooper’s inept defense of Sirhan condemned him to a conviction of first-degree murder and a probable death sentence.

Since his trial, Sirhan has generally been blessed with fine attorneys, all working pro bono to represent his best interests. I developed a new-found respect for Sirhan’s appeal attorney Luke McKissack reading his defense of his client at parole hearings in the eighties and early nineties and had the pleasure to interview Larry Teeter – who represented Sirhan from 1994 until his death in 2005 – for my film RFK Must Die.

William Pepper and Laurie Dusek took over as Sirhan’s attorneys in 2007 and Dr. Dan Brown began his work with Sirhan the following year. In the video above posted today, you can watch William Pepper giving his closing statement to the parole board in 2011 and Pepper and Dusek commenting on Sirhan’s five-year denial, which Dusek calls ‘a travesty of justice’.

After the 2011 hearing, Sirhan’s legal team put tremendous energy into pursuing the habeas corpus petition begun by Teeter in 1997 and you can follow their battle with the state of California in a new collection of court documents posted to the Mary Ferrell Foundation site, with an essay that addresses both the history of the petition and Sirhan’s parole hearings.

What Sirhan remembers

In March 2011, Sirhan Sirhan appeared in public for the first time in fourteen years at his most recent parole hearing. He was suffering from Valley fever but showed a sense of humour, a sense of humility and a devotion to the Bible that may surprise the Twitterati who still mistake him for an Islamic terrorist.

In the sequence above, you’ll see Sirhan sharing what he remembers about the night of the shooting and the mysterious girl who led him into a dark place in search of coffee. The parole board then delivers its verdict, completely ignoring Dr. Brown’s report validating Sirhan’s amnesia, shamelessly criticising Sirhan for an ‘immature comment’ about being victimised in prison after 9-11 and concluding Sirhan ‘would pose an unreasonable risk of danger or threat to public safety, if released.’

The panel shows extraordinary ignorance of the evidence and says Sirhan needs to do more self-help without recognising the three years of self-help and ‘looking into himself’ Sirhan had just done with Dr. Brown. What good did Sirhan’s intensive attempts at rehabilitation and self-help in the seventies do him? His parole date was rescinded. As the panel explain their decision, who can blame him for turning to his attorney with a rueful smile?