Los Angeles prosecutors for the first time have decided not to oppose the release of Sirhan Sirhan, the man convicted of assassinating former Sen. Robert F. Kennedy (D-N.Y.) in 1968.
The Washington Post reported that Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón’s office is remaining neutral in the case and will not be present at Sirhan's parole hearing on Friday.
While prosecutors had opposed Sirhan’s release in 15 previous parole hearings, Gascón upon taking on his role in December 2020 said his office’s “default policy” would be to not attend parole hearings and to instead work to submit letters in support of inmates who have served mandatory minimums and no longer pose a threat to society.
The Post noted, though, that the district attorney’s office was looking to be completely impartial in Sirhan’s case and would not be submitting a letter in support of his parole.
Sirhan, who is now 77, has remained in prison for 53 years.
Alex Bastian, special adviser to Gascón, said in a statement shared with The Hill that “The role of a prosecutor and their access to information ends at sentencing.”
“The parole board’s sole purpose is to objectively determine whether someone is suitable for release,” Bastian said. “If someone is the same person that committed an atrocious crime, that person will correctly not be found suitable for release.”
“However, if someone is no longer a threat to public safety after having served more than 50 years in prison, then the parole board may recommend release based on an objective determination,” the adviser added.
"Our office policies take these principles into account and as such, our prosecutors stay out of the parole board hearing process," he added.
While Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva previously announced that members of his department would attend parole hearings in place of the district attorney’s office to support crime victims, his office has not filed a request to be present at Friday’s hearing.
The Post reported that Sirhan’s parole attorney, Angela Berry, in her prehearing brief highlighted her client’s young age at the time of Kennedy’s assassination as well as his otherwise clean record and remorse for his actions.
The assassination has gained renewed attention in recent years, especially after Robert F. Kennedy Jr. told the Post in 2018 that he visited Sirhan in prison to tell him that he did not believe he killed his father.
Kennedy Jr., who has said he thinks there was a second gunman, noted this week that he supports Sirhan’s latest effort to be released on parole.
Former Maryland lieutenant governor Kathleen Kennedy Townsend (D) said in 2018 that she supported her brother’s calls for a new investigation into their father’s killing.
Sirhan confessed to the killing at the time, though he has also said that he had no memory of the shooting. Appeals of his conviction have repeatedly been rejected.
Updated at 7:51 p.m.