What are they thinking? Fifty-three years ago, a Palestinian terrorist named Sirhan Bishara Sirhan showed up in Los Angeles – the height of the 1968 presidential campaign – and murdered Robert F. Kennedy, a likely-to-win Democratic candidate, US Attorney General, brother of assassinated President John F. Kennedy. A California parole board now aims to free him.
Wrong does not come more wrong. Here is why. On August 27, the California parole board “granted release” of Sirhan, Kennedy’s confessed assassin. A 90-day review now kicks in, and then – whoever is Governor of California, current Governor Newsom, or replacement – decides.
Ironically, Sirhan should not even be alive. On that fateful day in 1968, Sirhan shot young Robert Kennedy four times, once in the head, twice in the back, and fourth time.
He shot five other people, who recovered. He did so avowedly out of hatred for Kennedy’s support for Israel. Five people wrestled Sirhan to the ground.
Sirhan not only confessed to the killing and pled guilty, but he also requested to be executed. A federal judge declined to accept his confession, declined his guilty plea, and declined his execution request. The trial established Sirhan has planned, practiced shooting, told others his intention. Nor did he disavow his motivation – deep anti-Semitism, hatred of Israel, and political terror.
Sirhan was eventually sentenced to death. The prosecutor was none other than World War II hero “Buck” Compton, made famous by Tom Hank’s “Band of Brothers” series. Buck was revered at the law, eventually appointed to California’s Supreme Court by Ronald Reagan.
What Compton would say about Sirhan’s release is not known – but can be imagined. Compton was a former police officer, exceedingly thorough. He sought Sirhan’s death. In a 2007 oral history, Compton noted, “Sirhan’s whole motive in killing Bobby Kennedy was because he hated the Jews and Zionists …there was a certain terrorist element involved … Jews … were the enemy.” So, to Compton, there is no question Sirhan was guilty of murder, anti-Semitic, a terrorist. See, e.g.,California Appellate Court Legacy Project.
As it turned out, soon after Sirhan’s death sentence, California rejected the death penalty – replacing it with life. In intervening years, 15 attempts to get free on parole have been systematically rejected – until now.
What has changed? Nothing, except that two of Robert Kennedy’s children, feeling guilty that Sirhan remains in prison, believe their father – dead by Sirhan’s hand – might wish him released, so advocated for his release.
In the modern moment, such a result approaches insanity. At a time when anti-Semitism and anti-Semitism terror are on the rise, when Muslim members of the US Congress openly evince anti-Semitism, when anti-Israeli terrorists chase Americans from Afghanistan when more Islamic terror has hit US shores in two decades than prior two centuries when lawlessness and record homicides are afoot – the message sent by releasing a convicted terrorist, one who killed a presidential candidate, seems the worst possible.
Releasing Sirhan would say to the world – even as we flee Afghanistan and leave Americans behind – we will not even abide by the rule of law at home, not keep murdering terrorists accountable. Here is a man who killed not only a politician but a leading Democratic presidential candidate, did so for avowed anti-Semitic and ideological reasons, shot five other people, escaped a death sentence to live – when the man he killed was robbed of life.
And Robert Kennedy’s brother, a serving president, was also killed by an ideological terrorist, albeit a communist sympathizer.
So, at a time of enormous domestic and global division, fears of violence and rising homicide, ideological dissension within and between political parties, and approaching the 20th anniversary of the most egregious Islamic terror event in US history, we should release one of the most notorious Islamic terrorists in our history?
No, the reality is that consequences – lifetime, irrevocable, and necessarily clear – must follow such a heinous act—the more heinous the act, the more immutable the consequences. California has long been losing touch with reality. Perhaps that is why a recall is afoot. Freeing the killer of Robert F. Kennedy in any era would be wrong. It is especially ill-advised right now.
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