LOS ANGELES – The man convicted of shooting dead Robert F. Kennedy in a 1968 assassination that rocked the United States was granted parole Friday.
Sirhan Sirhan, now 77, had tried on 15 previous occasions to be released from the life sentence imposed five decades earlier.
The vote on Friday by a two-person panel of the California parole board does not mean that Sirhan will automatically be released.
The decision is subject to a three-month review, and then ultimately passes to Governor Gavin Newsom, a Democrat who faces a recall vote in September.
Kennedy, the younger brother of slain president John F. Kennedy, was campaigning for the Democratic presidential nomination when he was gunned down in a Los Angeles hotel.
His murder came just months after the killing of Black civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr, and as a divided America was deep in an unpopular war in Vietnam.
Sirhan was convicted and sentenced to death in 1969 after pleading guilty to the murder.
His death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment several years later.
But doubts soon surfaced that he was actually responsible for Kennedy’s death, with claims that there could have been a second gunman in the Ambassador Hotel on June 5, 1968.
Kennedy had given a speech to a crowd at the hotel after winning California’s Democratic presidential primary.
On a walkabout in the kitchen where he met staff, he was shot, along with several other people in his entourage — among them Paul Schrade, who took a bullet to the head.
Schrade, as well as Kennedy’s then-14-year-old son, have since campaigned for Sirhan’s release, saying the evidence against him does not stack up.
“It is a good decision,” Schrade told AFP on Friday.
“I’m really grateful to the parole board for giving Sirhan the chance to go home.”
The controversy over Sirhan’s guilt began during his trial, when prosecutors produced an autopsy report that showed Kennedy was shot at point-blank range from behind.
Sirhan was standing in front of him.
Over the years and in numerous appeals, evidence has emerged that as many as 13 shots were fired that night.
The weapon Sirhan was found to have fired contained only eight bullets.
The ongoing controversy has echoes of the 1963 killing of John F. Kennedy, where some historians insist more than one gunman was involved. — Agence France-Presse
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