GAVIN GOT IT WRONG
ON JANUARY 13, 2022, CALIFORNIA GOVERNOR GAVIN NEWSOM REVERSED HIS APPOINTED PAROLE COMMISSIONERS DECISION WHERE THEY FOUND SIRHAN SUITABLE FOR PAROLE
WE UNPACK ALL THE UNTRUTHS, DOG WHISTLES, AND BLATANT DISREGARD FOR THE LAW
“Mr. Sirhan’s assassination of Senator Kennedy is among the most notorious crimes in American history,” wrote Governor Newsom in his decision. “After decades in prison, he has failed to address the deficiencies that led him to assassinate Senator Kennedy. Mr. Sirhan lacks the insight that would prevent him from making the same types of dangerous decisions he made in the past.”
Newsom's Statement of "facts"
Page 1/Paragraph 1:
“While Senator Kennedy greeted hotel staff, Sirhan Sirhan shot him at close range.”
This seems like a simple enough statement. Yet, all of the evidence in the case shows that this presumption, the foundation of Newsom’s ruling, is simply not true. What follows are details on some of the most egregious examples of police and prosecutor misconduct as well as the actual facts supported by the evidence. This is not an exhaustive list.
Coroner’s Report: The official Los Angeles County coroner's report by Thomas Noguchi details how the shot to the back of the head that killed RFK was fired from just an inch or two away because there were powder burns on RFK’s ear and scalp. In grand jury testimony Noguchi said the maximum would be 2 to 3 inches away (Report on the Medicolegal Investigation of Senator Robert F. Kennedy. Noguchi. pg 40).
The Senator was shot at four times from behind his body. One bullet missed him and passed through his jacket shoulder pad; three shots struck his body.
Here are descriptions of the three wounds from the coroner’s report:
Wound #1 “The fatal shot”: Direction from Right to Left, slightly to front and upwards. No exit. Entered behind right ear. The bullet was recovered in fragments only and could not be matched due to fragmentation (Noguchi. pg.5).
Wound #2: “Through and Through” of right shoulder, with no deflection within the body – it went in a clean line from entering the back, exiting the front. The direction was Right to Left, back to front and upward. The bullet was not recovered. There were gunpowder granules on the dermis (Noguchi. pg. 6, 26).
Wound #3: The “neck bullet.” This bullet entered just below wound #2 entry, entering near the shoulder blade (scapula). A “deformed” .22 caliber bullet was recovered at the 6th Cervical vertebra (neck/spine). Direction Right to Left, back to front and upward. The bullet is marked TN31 by Coroner Noguchi (Noguchi. pg. 7, 27).
Powder residue was found with heat and blast effects visible (Noguchi. pg. 19, 26).
Every single witness to Sirhan shooting in the pantry placed the muzzle of the gun, in Sirhan’s outstretched arm, no closer than 1.5 feet in front of RFK as they faced each other. After the Grand Jury testimony, Assistant District Attorney John Miner rushed up to Noguchi and asked if he meant “feet,” not “inches.” Noguchi answered “My goodness, it’s an inch, not feet, because of the black powder behind the ear” (Pease, Lisa A Lie to Big to Fail: The Real History of the Assassination of Robert F. Kennedy. 2018 Feral House. pg. 69. Citing Moldea, Dan The Killing of Robert Kennedy, 1995 WW Norton & Company 2006 edition. pg. 92).
By asking this of Noguchi on the day of the Grand Jury hearing, just a few days after the shooting, Miner shows that prosecutors were already determined to charge Sirhan for the murder of RFK and to try to suppress any evidence to the contrary, even though there was a serious discrepancy between what the witnesses were saying and what the science was showing about where Sirhan was positioned compared to the LADA’s desire to charge Sirhan as the lone gunman.
The Bullet Count: In addition, photographs of the crime scene taken by the LAPD, FBI, and Associated Press shortly after the crime prove there were more than 8 bullets fired – Sirhan had an 8-shot revolver and had no chance to reload as he was pinned down. Some of the photos show LAPD officers pointing at and measuring the bullet holes. Officers also described seeing bullets lodged within the holes. When the number of bullets recovered from RFK and other victims at the shooting are added to the number of bullets seen in photographs of door frames and other parts of the kitchen pantry, they add up to 12, with the LAPD stating that an additional bullet went through a ceiling tile and was never recovered, bringing the total to 13. LAPD documents show they destroyed the door frames and other evidence of bullet holes while Sirhan’s case was still being appealed.
Bullets Never Matched to Sirhan’s Gun: LAPD documents also show that lead Criminalist DeWayne Wolfer used bullets from another gun to convict Sirhan, then lied about it when confronted at later hearings. He testified that the “fatal bullet” matched perfectly to the test bullets from Sirhan’s gun (Exh. 55). In fact, the fatal bullet was never matched to any other bullet as it was in fragments and could not be tested. Further, the test bullets he was referencing were from a gun wholly unrelated to the crime, taken from the LAPD evidence locker. That gun’s serial number was H18602 and was from a crime committed several years earlier. (Trial Transcripts, Vol. 15, Feb. 24, 1969).
Wolfer test fired Sirhan’s gun (serial number H53725) on June 5, 1968, and he test fired H18602 on June 6, while the Kennedy family was leaving Los Angeles on Air Force 2 with RFK’s body. It is unclear, due to a dismal (or purposefully obscured) chain-of-custody record of the evidence, which set of test bullets were presented to the Grand Jury on June 7. Why did Wolfer need H18602 on June 6 instead of Sirhan’s gun, which he still had? Presumably, the bullets from Sirhan’s gun should have sufficed to prove the crime.
Instead, Wolfer pulled H18602 from the evidence locker, test fired it and presented those bullets “as bullets from Sirhan’s gun” [Exh. 6] at the trial. When asked to clear it up later, he lied about it. He claimed to have needed the similar gun, H81602, because Sirhan’s was with the Grand Jury and unavailable to him. This is a lie proven by the Crime Lab slip dated 6-6-68. He took possession H18602 when he still had Sirhan’s gun and before the Grand Jury met.
Furthermore, Wolfer repeatedly lied in later investigations stating that he didn’t have H18602, the similar gun, until June 10th or 11th (two different dates given in two different inquiries). Again, the Crime Lab slip showed he had H18602 in his possession on June 6, and there are also Daily Logs showing he test fired a gun again on June 8, a day after Sirhan’s gun was no longer available because it was with the Grand Jury. Later, when historians tried to obtain H18602 for investigation, the LAPD lied and said it was destroyed. Records show that it is now in private ownership.
District Attorney Joseph Busch perpetuated the lie when some of the evidence was re-examined in October, 1971. Busch stated on October 18, 1971, that “Mr. Wolfer conducted two series of ballistic tests. The first on June 6, 1968, with the gun seized from Sirhan B. Sirhan, and the bullets of this test were used to identify the bullets removed from the victims of the crime. The second tests were conducted on June 11, 1968 …from a weapon obtained from the Property Division of LAPD. …The second tests were conducted to determine the sound characteristics and to verify muzzle distance by examining gun powder patterns. This gun was destroyed in July 1969 in accordance with State law.”
The only reason to lie would be if the bullet recovered from RFK did not match the bullets recovered from other victims, which would indicate that there were two guns used during the crime and therefore two gunmen. And if the bullets from the crime scene didn’t match then the only way to solve that problem and preserve the lone gunman narrative would be to test fire a different gun and present all of those matching bullets as the ones recovered from RFK and the other victims.
However, these lies were not immediately apparent because Sirhan’s lawyers were just trying to save him from the death penalty and did not challenge the bullet evidence at trial, or point out all of the discrepancies between the witness statements and the bullet evidence. Also, the LAPD refused to release their files on the case for two decades. The public only gained access when direct victim Paul Schrade and others sued them.
Audio Recording Confirms Bullet Count and More: Again, the total number of bullets recovered from victims, photographed in the woodwork at the crime scene and lost above the ceiling is 13. That is the same number of shot sounds found on the only known audio recording of the shooting (no film cameras captured the shots being fired). This recording was discovered in the California State Archives in 2004 and made by freelance journalist Stanislaw Prsuzynski after he recorded RFK’s victory speech, turned his recorder off, then accidentally turned it back on as he followed RFK and others toward the pantry.
The sworn affidavit of the analysis of this recording by audio expert Philip Van Praag was submitted as part of Case 2:00-cv-05686-CAS -AJW Document 180 Filed 11/20/11 by Sirhan’s attorneys at the time.
Van Praag’s sworn statement details four important findings. First, that the total number of shot sounds recorded is 13 and that other sounds, like that of a popping balloon, would not have made the same kind of sound. Second, that there were two instances of “double shots,” meaning shots that virtually overlapped which shows that they could not have been fired from the same gun since it’s impossible to fire to shots from the same gun that quickly. Third, that unique audio frequency signatures in 5 of the shot sounds do not match the audio signature of test bullets fired from Sirhan’s model of revolver but do match the unique audio signature of test bullets fired from the same model of gun owned by the security guard who was standing right behind RFK in the pantry.
Multiple eyewitnesses saw the guard raise his gun and at least one saw him fire his weapon with the muzzle behind RFK, matching the coroner’s evidence of where the bullets were fired from. The LAPD never asked to see or analyze the security guard’s gun. That security guard, Thane Eugene Cesar, claimed he sold his .22 caliber revolver, the same caliber as Sirhan’s revolver, before the shooting. But a receipt produced later by the new owner of the gun showed the sale had happened months after the shooting and the new owner reported that Cesar said the gun had been involved in a police shooting. Cesar also said in a recorded interview that he hated both Robert and John Kennedy since he felt that the Kennedys had sold out the country to minorities.
As you can see from the evidence mentioned above, as well as additional evidence that can be provided, Newsom’s decision is based on assumptions that Sirhan was a lone gunman and that one of his bullets killed RFK. But the facts show that neither of those assumptions are true.
Sirhan was never in position to shoot RFK from behind at point blank range and it’s clear that more than one gun was fired. There is also a prime suspect, the security guard, who clearly had the opportunity and motive to shoot RFK from the correct position and who lied about important facts in the case.
So, counter to Newsom’s claim, it is the LAPD’s and LADA’s lone gunman theory that has been disproven by the evidence. Therefore, Newsom’s entire justification to reverse Sirhan’s parole is based on a fallacy and his decision needs to be overturned.
Page 3/Paragraph 1:
“Senator Kennedy’s murder caused his family immeasurable suffering, including his pregnant wife, their ten children, and the extended Kennedy family.”
No mention of Paul Schrade, the only registered victim in this case who is still alive, and no mention that the law requires the Governor to consider victim’s rights before next of kin. RFK’s assassination did cause great suffering for the Kennedy family. It also caused great suffering for Paul Schrade. That suffering continues for him because justice in this case has not been served as the governor refuses to acknowledge the facts of the case and insists on keeping Sirhan in prison instead of allowing his parole and starting a new investigation to hold the person directly responsible for RFK’s death responisble.
Robert Kennedy was a man of truth and justice. His legacy is not served when the false narrative in this case is parroted by the governor and Sirhan is kept in prison against the recommendation of the parole board, the verifiable evidence and Mr. Schrade's wishes as the sole registered victim.
“Mr. Sirhan shot Senator Kennedy in front of news cameras, which subjected the Kennedy family and American public to a ubiquitous video loop of Senator Kennedy’s violent death and his wife’s anguish at his side.”
There is no video of the actual shooting, only aftermath. Again, the Governor demonstrates a complete lack of understanding of even the most basic facts in the case. A decision based on such a misinformed view must not be allowed to stand.
The audio tape is the only known source to have captured the few seconds when shots were being fired. It has been analyzed and found to have 13 shots on it. Sirhan’s gun only held 8 bullets and he had no chance to reload as he was being pinned down by bystanders.
So, someone else fired at least 5 shots at the same time. You can see the timing of the 13 shots on an audio waveform graph of the shooting. The LAPD had the audiotape at the time of Sirhan’s trial, but illegally concealed it from his lawyers and the public for 20 years (LA Times. Kendall. April 20, 1988).
Page 3/Paragraph 2:
“Mr. Sirhan’s crimes also caused great harm to the American people.”
Again, no mention of Paul Schrade, the only registered victim in this case. And no acknowledgment that the evidence shows that Sirhan was not the person who killed RFK.
“Compounding the grief of the Kennedy family and the American public, Mr. Sirhan killed Senator Kennedy during a dark season of political assassinations, just nine weeks after Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s murder and four and a half years after the murder of Senator Kennedy’s brother, President John F. Kennedy.”
Again, the governor is violating Mr. Schrade's Victim's Rights rights by giving the Kennedy family and the American people greater weight than the only registered victim in this case. And he ignores the evidence that Sirhan was not the person who killed RFK. Also, Newsom is adding a subjective element, that Sirhan supposedly committed a political assassination, when the charges against him were first degree murder and five counts of attempted murder.
Newsom seems to imply here that his decision to deny Sirhan’s parole is somehow more justified because other political assassinations took place in a four and a half year period. This type of subjective reasoning is not consistent with the crimes Sihran was charged with and is outside the scope of the guidelines Newsom is supposed to follow in his decision-making process.
Page 3/Paragraph 4:
"The most glaring evidence of Mr. Sirhan’s deficient insight is his shifting narrative about his assassination of Senator Kennedy, and his current refusal to accept responsibility for his crimes. As the following examples show, Mr. Sirhan has inconsistently described his role in the assassination of Senator Kennedy, claimed shifting memory lapses, minimized his participation in the crimes, and outright denied his guilt:"
In that paragraph and the examples he cites on the following pages, the governor uses a cynical “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” rhetorical device. When Sirhan says he doesn’t remember the moments of the actual shooting then Newsom says Sirhan isn’t taking responsibility. And when Sirhan does take responsibility for being there and firing his gun, based on all of the accounts of the shooting he’s been made aware of, the governor claims Sirhan is confessing and that the claims of not remembering the shooting are false. Sirhan is also never given credit for showing remorse even though he has expressed that many times in interviews, in parole hearings and even directly to RFK’s son when Robert Kennedy Jr. visited Sirhan in prison in 2017.
Before the LAPD files were released to the public in 1988, Sirhan did accept responsibility for killing RFK because the evidence proving there was a second gunman was not available yet, so Sirhan accepted the lone gunman narrative even though he could not remember the time period of the actual shooting. Newsom’s claims of Sirhan’s “narrative shifts” since “the 1990s” coincide with when I and other researchers finally began to examine the sealed records. It became increasingly obvious from the LAPD archives that a second gunman was involved. So the governor’s claims of inconsistencies in Sirhan’s comments about the death of RFK are not proven out by Sirhan’s memory issues and the sequence of events. Also, under California law, a confession is not required for parole.
Page 4/Paragraph 1: “At his trial, which began in February 1969, Mr. Sirhan testified that he shot Senator Kennedy but was drunk and could not remember his actions. Later during his trial, when the jury was not present, Mr. Sirhan exclaimed, “I killed Robert Kennedy willfully, premeditatively, with twenty years of malice aforethought.” He later said that he made this statement to get attention.”
It has been well known for many years that when Sirhan shouted this “confession” it was out of frustration and unhappiness with his defense team. The outburst came after days of pleading with the judge to allow Sirhan to fire his attorney due to the dismal defense he was being provided. Sirhan has retracted this desperate outburst but the supposed “confession” has been taken out of context and used against him ever since.
In order for Sirhan’s statement to have any validity, it would have required him to have been planning to kill Robert Kennedy when Sirhan was 4 years old and living in Palestine. RFK would have been 22 years old and not yet a political figure. It’s obviously not a serious statement.
Sirhan had good reason to be frustrated with his defense team. They never challenged prosecutorial inconsistencies, bullied Sirhan into conceding guilt at the outset, and actively blocked the inclusion of ballistics and other evidence that might have proven him innocent of killing Senator Kennedy.
Grant Cooper, Sirhan’s lead defense attorney, did not challenge any of the bullet evidence at Sirhan’s trial and offered only a “diminished capacity” defense, saying Sirhan should not be sentenced to death because he didn’t understand his actions. At the same time, Cooper was on the verge of being indicted and disbarred due to his actions during an earlier trial involving mobster Johnny Roselli.
Cooper was found to have stolen documents and using those to aid the defense of Roselli and others. After Cooper’s anemic defense of Sirhan, Cooper’s possible indictment and disbarment were dropped, and he was allowed to simply pay a fine.
Anyone who tries to take Sirhan’s outburst out of context and use it to justify denying him parole more than 50 years later is grasping at straws.
Page 4/Paragraph 4:
“At his 1985 parole hearing, Mr. Sirhan admitted to writing entries in his journals, found by police in his bedroom after the crimes, that repeated, “RFK must die. RFK must be killed. Robert F. Kennedy must be assassinated” and “Robert F. Kennedy must be assassinated before 5 June 68.”
Page 4/Paragraph 5:
“At his 1987 parole hearing, Mr. Sirhan admitted that he shot Senator Kennedy but denied shooting the other victims. He said that he committed the crimes in retaliation for Senator Kennedy’s statements of support for the United States military aid to Israel. At the same time, Mr. Sirhan claimed that his memories were vague. He told the Board that he suspected he had blocked the shooting from his memory for his self-preservation.”
Page 4/Paragraph 6: “In 1989, Mr. Sirhan told a reporter during a televised interview that he committed the assassination because Mr. Sirhan objected to Senator Kennedy’s support for Israel.”
In response to the three statements above, at trial, Sirhan’s notebooks were cited as evidence of the premeditated nature of the crime. However, for over 50 years Sirhan has maintained that he has no memory of writing in the notebooks, nor of the shooting itself. Most importantly, it has never been explained how Sirhan could have written the most incriminating page on May 18, 1968, when that was days before Senator Kennedy making his first campaign speech promising bombers to Israel.
In addition, previous legal filings by Sirhan’s attorneys at the time (Case 2:00-cv-05686-CAS -AJW Document 180-2 Filed 11/20/11) include multiple affidavits from lawyers and psychologists who specialize in the intersection of hypnosis and crime. They stated that Sirhan is extremely easy to put into a hypnotic state and that the writings in his notebooks contain all of the telltale signs of repetitive writings made in a hypnotic state.
The experts also explain that decades of research have shown that otherwise law-abiding people can be led to commit crimes while in a hypnotic state and have no memory of the event afterward. We prefer to focus on the more direct physical and documentary evidence, but these sworn statements should seriously call into question the original conviction and any denials of parole based on writings that don’t match the timeline of events and experts who explain why those writings were almost certainly made in a hypnotic state.
Page 6/paragraph 3:
"The record further demonstrates that Mr. Sirhan has not meaningfully disclaimed political violence—committed by him or in his name—nor shown that he appreciates the unique risks created by his commission of a political assassination. These gaps in Mr. Sirhan’s insight have a close nexus to his current risk of inciting further political violence.”
Again, Sirhan was not charged or convicted of a political assassination and/or political violence. Sirhan was charged and convicted of Murder 1 and 5 attempts. Also, prisoners are not required to confess to any crimes or promise not to incite possible future crimes as a condition for parole. Sirhan was granted release by the parole board commissioners due to his immaculate record of rehabilitation.
When the issue of political conflicts came up in his hearing last August, Sirhan said, “I’m too old and I’m just interested in doing other things than being involved with all of the politics of this world.”
Also, as Sirhan’s current attorney, Angela Berry, pointed out in his August hearing, even if Sirhan had been charged with political violence, the state’s own experts have said that would reduce his likelihood of re-offending since it would have been a specific crime committed for a specific purpose: Dr. Pollick in his opinion … that was recognized in the 1985 parole hearing, he opined that "The risk of re-offense was very remote since the crime was politically motivated." We heard that echoed by Dr. Dry in 1987. … For the 2016 hearing, Dr. Sahni said, "Mr. Sirhan’s risk relates squarely to the crime itself, rendering him a low risk of future violence.”
So the governor acted outside of the guidelines when he made a renunciation of potential future political violence a condition of Sirhan’s release, then ignored Sirhan’s recent statement directly saying he would not engage in politics once released, and also ignored the conclusions of multiple state experts who said that Sirhan was at very low risk to re-offend precisely due to what they felt were political elements of Sirhan’s crime.
Page 7/Paragraph 2 in reference to Paragraph 1: P1:
“The commissioner questioned Mr. Sirhan about the possibility of being used as a lightning rod to foment violence. Mr. Sirhan rejected this possibility out of hand, and implausibly suggested that it was equally likely that he could be used as “a peacemaker and a contributor to . . . a friendly nonviolent way of resolving the issues.” The Board found his professed intention not to be “a rebel or a troublemaker” sufficient to mitigate this risk factor.``
P2: “I disagree. Not only has Mr. Sirhan failed to meaningfully disclaim political violence, he lacks the skills required to control his response to external triggers, which are critical for mitigating the public safety risk he poses. At his 2021 parole hearing, for example, the Board asked Mr. Sirhan to describe his internal mental processes for dealing with stressors. Mr. Sirhan’s answers demonstrated that he does not understand these processes or their steps, from self-awareness to effective self-control. Despite his incomplete answers to their questions, the Board found that Mr. Sirhan’s anger management skills are sufficient to manage the public safety challenges he would face on parole.”
Once again, Governor Newsom tries to change Sirhan’s conviction by elevating it to an act of political violence when he was only charged with Murder 1 and 5 attempts. We've addressed the problems with Newsom’s reasoning on that above.
In terms of Sirhan’s control and response to triggers, including potential or actual threats, his record on being able to handle triggers is supported with a half century of positive proof. Prison is a microcosm of society. But everything in prison is concentrated, including anti-social elements that one would not normally face as often within society. Sirhan has navigated a violent environment, exhibiting at an extraordinary level his effective self-control and awareness; fifty years without a behavior write-up or rule violation is astonishing.
It is doubtful that most normal citizens would have the capacity to manage the complex external triggers presented within fifty years incarcerated in the California Prison system. To achieve this benchmark of positive behavior in prison is tantamount to the apex of what rehabilitation should look like. Sirhan is a trained conflict resolution facilitator and has applied his skills to mitigate violence in situations with himself, and other groups he shares space with. Sirhan has not responded to situational violence – even in self-defense – including most recently when he was attacked and had his throat slashed.
Multiple guards who interact with him on a daily basis submitted letters to the parole board advocating for his release because they agree that he handles stressors well and demonstrates excellent self-awareness and self-control. There were no letters from guards to the contrary. So, we have no idea what exactly Newsom is referring to when he accuses Sirhan of providing incomplete answers.
Sirhan’s record clearly demonstrates the opposite and the governor does not provide any specific statements from Sirhan or expert recommendations to support his accusation. Once again, the governor ignored decades of findings of the state’s own psychologists, the first-hand accounts of the guards and the recommendations of the parole board commissioners.
This is more proof that the governor disregarded the laws and guidelines he was supposed to follow and applied his own subjective standards which are contrary to the facts. Such a biased review violates a fair review process as spelled out in California law.
Sirhan’s impressive record of rehabilitation, the decades of assessments by state psychologists finding he is a very low risk to re-offend, the glowing reports from correctional officers who interact with him on a day to day basis, his status as both a youthful offender and now an elderly inmate, the determination of the professionals on the parole board to release Sirhan, and Paul Schrade's request as the only registered victim that he be paroled combine to far outweigh the subjective standards Governor Newsom applied.