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.

13 shots = 2 guns

A couple of days before the fortieth anniversary of the RFK assassination in 2008, I interviewed forensic audio expert Phil van Praag about his stunning analysis of the Pruszynski recording, the only known audio of the shooting at the Ambassador Hotel on 5 June, 1968.

You can watch a seven-minute overview of Phil’s findings above, made for the Documentary Channel as an epilogue to my film RFK Must Die. You can also read Phil’s detailed declaration for Sirhan’s habeas corpus petition below. In short, he concludes that at least thirteen shots were fired from two guns in the Ambassador pantry that night but the courts denied Sirhan’s petition without even granting an evidentiary hearing.

Black Op Radio interview

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I did a forty-minute interview with Len Osanic of Black Op Radio the other day, which you can now listen to above. Len has a summary of our discussion on his site and has William Pepper, Lynn Mangan and Paul Schrade lined up for next Thursday’s show, reacting to Wednesday’s hearing.

Sirhan Sirhan

The photo above, published here for the first time courtesy of California State Archives, shows Sirhan in his cell in August, 1968 and I’ll be posting more rare photos tomorrow. As Sirhan’s hearing draws near, here are links to some of the key research material we’ve released during this campaign and the earlier work it was based on:

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?