"My determination to eliminate RFK is becoming more [and] more of an unshakable obsession... [He] must be sacrificed for the cause of the poor exploited people."
Sirhan was born on March 19, 1944, in Jerusalem, Palestine (during the Mandatory Palestinian administration), to Bishara and Mary Sirhan. He had four older siblings and was raised in a Christian family. As a child, he witnessed the poor living conditions of his home, brought by the Arab-Israeli war. Allegedly, Bishara was also a stern man who physically abused his sons. When he was twelve years old, his entire family earned U.S. visas and emigrated to the country as refugees, settling in New York first before moving to California, but shortly afterward, Bishara moved back to the Middle East after being unable to understand American customs. There, Sirhan attended Eliot Junior High School before transferring to John Muir High School. At school, he was described as being quiet, polite, intelligent, and popular, and during his time at John Muir High School, Sirhan joined the California Cadets, an ROTC-like program that allowed its members to shoot .22-caliber rifles at practice targets, presumably imprinting a love for .22-caliber firearms into Sirhan's mind. After graduating John Muir High, he attended Pasadena City College, but he began missing lessons frequently, resulting in a descent in his academic performance. Sirhan also held many different jobs, especially liking his workplace at the Santa Anita racetrack (in which he worked as a stable boy), eventually expressing a desire to become a jockey. However, his dreams ended after a series of horse-riding accidents that sent him to the hospital, although he continued to frequent the racetrack, sometimes betting his entire check on several races. Sirhan also changed his church denominations several times, but eventually settled on the occult Ancient Mystical Order of the Rose Cross, or Rosicrusians, which apparently hypnotized him.
The RFK Assassination
"My only connection with Robert Kennedy was his sole support of Israel and his deliberate attempt to send those 50 bombers to Israel to obviously do harm to the Palestinians."
Being unable to vote, Sirhan allegedly became disenfranchised with American customs as a result and began showing support for the Arabians during their conflict with Israel. As a result, he began to concoct a scheme to assassinate former U.S. Attorney General and current New York Senator Robert F. Kennedy, who showed support for Israel and had entered the race for the Democratic Party's nomination for U.S. President after President Lyndon B. Johnson announced that he didn't have plans to seek for reelection due to the unpopularity of his administration. According to witness interviews, Sirhan was seen attending two Kennedy assemblies; the second one was held three days prior to the assassination. He also visited the Ambassador Hotel on the day prior to the assassination in an apparent attempt to learn the building's layout. On June 4, 1968, the 1968 presidential primary elections in California were held, and later held Kennedy as the victor in the state's Democratic presidential primary. At around 12:10 a.m. of the next day, Kennedy addressed nearly 2000 campaign supporters at the Embassy Room ballroom of the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles. At the time, he wasn't given protection by Secret Service agents, since they were only provided for incumbent Presidents. Because of an impending press conference, Kennedy was forced to go through the hotel's kitchen and pantry area in order to get there on time, instead of going through the ballroom to greet more supporters as he had originally planned. While Kennedy was in the kitchen, having been separated from his protection detail, Sirhan approached him as he was shaking his hand with a busboy named Juan Romero, and began firing repeatedly from a .22-caliber Iver-Johnson Cadet revolver, striking Kennedy once in the head and twice in the back with bullets fired at close range.
Sirhan was then hit in the face twice by FBI agent William Barry, who was one of those assigned to Kennedy's protection detail, while other people, including maîtres d'hôtel Karl Uecker and Edward Minasian, writer George Plimpton (who was a friend and classmate of Kennedy's), Olympic gold-medal decathlete Rafer Johnson, professional football player Rosey Grier (another friend and bodyguard of Kennedy's who was protecting his then-pregnant wife Ethel), and California State Assemblyman Jesse Unruh, disarmed him and attempted to subdue him. However, by that time, five other people were also hit and seriously wounded by bullets that were fired as Sirhan was tackled, some of them by ricocheting bullets. After a minute of this passed, Sirhan, who was described by witnesses as being strangely calm for the duration of the entire shooting, managed to break free and retrieve his gun from Grier, who had grabbed it from him and kept it in his pocket, but found that Grier had ripped off its pin and that it had also fired all eight of its bullets. He was then subdued once again, this time successfully. Medical attendants arrived at the scene of the shooting several minutes later and lifted the wounded Kennedy onto a stretcher, just before he lost consciousness. He was taken to Central Receiving Hospital, where he was already in critical condition to the point where a doctor had to slap Kennedy's face to induce some sort of response from him. After spending thirty minutes at Central Receiving, he was transferred to the Good Samaritan Hospital for surgery. Despite the surgery, Kennedy died at 1:44 p.m. on June 6, nearly 26 hours after the shooting. Meanwhile, Sirhan was arrested by two rookie police officers, Arthur Placencia and Travis White, and taken outside of the hotel where angry citizens shouted threats at him.
Sirhan's Trial and IncarcerationOn June 9, Sirhan confessed to the assassination, which was recorded by interrogators, but despite that, a lengthy trial ensued, in which the judge refused to accept his confession and his not-guilty plea. On February 10, 1969, Sirhan plead guilty to first-degree murder and asked to be executed (in spite of his defense team aiming for life imprisonment), but the request was turned down by the judge. Two days later, the trial's opening statements began. The prosecution cited Sirhan's extensive preparation and deliberation for the shooting, while the defense stated that he had acted out of impulse due to a "mental deficiency" (later described by a psychiatry professor as diminished capacity). During the trial, he admitted shooting Kennedy and added that he killed him "with 20 years of malice aforethought"; he later clarified in a 1989 interview that it was a reference to the time the State of Israel was created. When he explained his motivation for shooting Kennedy, one of the members of his own defense team, who was Jewish, became upset by the allegations and expressed intentions of resigning, but was talked out of it. On April 17, Sirhan was found guilty, and six days afterward, he was sentenced to the gas chamber. However, three years later in 1972, it was commuted to life in prison. This was due to the California Supreme Court's ruling in People v. Anderson that capital punishment was legally considered a violation of the California Constitution's prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment, a decision that was cited as "retroactive", meaning that all death sentences imposed in California prior to the decision were now all invalidated.
Later on, it was argued that one of Sirhan's lawyers had actually been compromised by a conflict of interest and was subsequently grossly negligent of his client. As a result, a new trial was moved amid claims of conspiracy theories. On June 5, 2003, ironically the 35th anniversary of Kennedy's shooting, another of Sirhan's attorneys, Lawrence Teeter, petitioned a federal court to move his case to Fresno, California, arguing that his client could no longer have a fair hearing in Los Angeles since one of the prosecutors in the original case was now a federal judge there. He also claimed that Sirhan was hypnotized and set up as a patsy for a conspiracy possibly fabricated by the U.S. government. As a result, he was granted a hearing on June 30. That day, Teeter cited a witness testimony that Sirhan appeared to be hypnotized during the shooting, but the motion was denied. Teeter would later die in 2005. To date (January 2014), Sirhan remains confined at the Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility in southern San Diego County.
Sirhan was housed in the Adjustment Center at the San Quentin State Prison in 1971, later being transferred to the Correctional Training Facility in Soledad, California, where he stayed until 1992. From that time to 2009, he was transferred again to the Protective Housing Unit of the California State Prison in Corcoran. In October 2009, Sirhan was moed for a third time, being taken to the Pleasant Valley State Prison in Coalinga, presumably for his own safety, but was later moved back to Corcoran a short time later. Parole hearings were recently scheduled for Sirhan for every five years; on March 2, 2011, he held his fourteenth parole hearing, during which he claimed of not having any memories of the assassination or the subsequent legal proceedings. His parole was denied since Sirhan was described as not understanding the full ramifications of his actions.
Kennedy's assassination, which occurred during the 1968 U.S. Presidential election, had since changed the dynamics of the race. Democratic candidate Hubert Humphrey, who was in the lead of delegate votes for the Democratic nomination for President, garnering 561 votes, received some support from former Kennedy delegates, but many, remembering primary battles with other Democratic candidate Eugene McCarthy, instead focused their support on late-starting candidate George McGovern. In the end, Republican primary Richard Nixon narrowly won against Humphrey with 43.42% of the votes; his running mate was Spiro Agnew. During his term as President, Nixon initially escalated U.S. involvement in the heavily unpopular Vietnam War, but later ended it by 1973, and he also initiated détente and the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, which dealt with the limitation of anti-ballistic missile systems used in defensive areas against nuclear weapons, with the Soviet Union. However, Nixon was forced to resign due to impending threats of impeachment following mounting tensions regarding the Watergate scandal, and he eventually died of a debilitating stroke on April 22, 1994, at the age of 81. To this day, there have been debates over whether Kennedy could have won the Democratic primary nomination had he lived. Some historians argued that his broad appeal and famed charisma would have helped him secure a victory. However, others believed that Humphrey's large lead in delegate votes from non-primary states and also McCarthy's refusal to quit the primary race, would have prevented Kennedy from ever winning a majority of delegate votes at the Democratic Convention, and that Humphrey would still have been the Democratic nominee even if Kennedy lived.
Following her husband's assassination, Ethel Kennedy publicly declared that she would never marry again. Since then, she has spent her days being escorted to dinners, parties, and the local theater by Andy Williams, a singer and a family friend of the Kennedys. During the 2008 Democratic U.S. Presidential primaries of the 2008 U.S. Presidential election, she and several of her and Kennedy's children were one of many campaign endorsers for then-Illinois Senator and Democratic candidate for presidency Barack Obama; he would go on to win the presidential election with 52.93% of the votes. Ethel also agreed to star in a documentary about her life, titled Ethel, which was directed by one of her and Kennedy's children Rory, who was born six months after Kennedy was assassinated.
Conspiracy TheoriesJust like the JFK assassination, the RFK assassination became a growing ground for conspiracy theories in recent history, although they are not as strong as those of the JFK assassination. The most prevalent conspiracy theory is that there was a second gunman involved in the shooting, since the location of Kennedy's wounds implied that his killer stood behind him, but eyewitness accounts placed Sirhan facing west of Kennedy while he was moving through the kitchen eastward. This theory was further supported by the fact that the fatal shot that killed Kennedy was located behind his right ear and had been fired at an estimated distance of one inch, as well as an audio recording of the shooting that implied that a total of thirteen shots were fired (even though Sirhan's revolver held only eight rounds) and that the timing between shots was inhumanly shorter; no shots were officially stated to be fired by other people. However, this theory is countered by other eyewitness accounts that described Kennedy turning to his left to shake hands as Sirhan approached him, facing north and so exposing his right side. A hotel security guard named Thane Eugene Cesar has been cited by many as viable to be the second gunman; he admitted in an interview following the assassination that he drew his gun (identified as a .38-caliber Rohm) when the first shot was fired, although he was knocked down before he could fire a shot. It was revealed that he also owned a .22-caliber Harrington & Richardson pistol, which he showed to police on June 24, 1968, but then claimed three years later that he sold it before the assassination occurred. The man currently owning the pistol was tracked down, and a receipt proved that Cesar sold the gun after the assassination, not before as he testified. Cesar denied any involvement with the assassination and later passed a polygraph test.
Another popular theory supports Sirhan's claims that he was hypnotized during the shooting, involving a Manchurian candidate hypothesis that stated Sirhan was brainwashed by unidentified people into assassinating Kennedy; as a result, he was unaware of his actions at the time and his mind was later "wiped" after the shooting ended so he would have no memory of the events and the people who brainwashed him. Psychologist and hypnosis expert Dr. Eduard Simson-Kallas was a proponent supporter of this theory, having spent 35 hours of work with Sirhan in San Quentin State Prison in 1969 after his conviction, during which he claimed then, and to this day, to have no memory of the assassination or the aftermath.Yet another theory involves the presence of a woman described as wearing a dress with a polka-dot pattern, who was, as described by a witness named Sandy Serrano, fleeing from the scene with a man, yelling "We shot him! We shot him!", and then clarifying to a witness that she meant Kennedy. Eyewitness reports of this woman were connected by conspiracy theorists to reports of a girl wearing the same type of dress, who was allegedly seen with Sirhan at various times in the evening of the assassination, including the kitchen where Kennedy was shot. However, Serrano's account of the woman fleeing from the scene as shots were being fired was disproved by a criminologist who stated that Serrano's distance from the shooting would have left her unable to hear any gunshots as she previously claimed. It was later revealed that Serrano had fabricated the eyewitness account, which she later admitted after investigations into the credibility of her claims failed to corroborate them. However, a documentary into the assassination, called RFK Must Die, claimed that Serrano was telling the truth and that she was bullied by investigators into recanting her story, which was supported by what appears to be audio of a 38-minute-long interview between her and LAPD sergeant Hank Hernandez.
There is also a theory that several CIA agents were also involved in the assassination. In November 2006, a BBC news program alleged that several CIA officers were present at the time of the shooting. This was allegedly proved by positive identification of three men that appear in films and photographs of the assassination, all of whom were identified as JMWAVE Chief of Operations David Sánchez Morales, Chief of Maritime Operations Gordon Campbell, and Chief of Psychological Warfare Operations George Joannides. The news program alleged that Morales said, according to his lawyer, "I was in Dallas when we got the son of a bitch [the JFK assassination] and I was in Los Angeles when we got the little bastard [the RFK assassination]." Morales was already a subject of focus of conspiracy theories relating to the JFK assassination as well, with theorists believing that he matched the description of a man accompanying Lee Harvey Oswald as evidenced by witness testimonies by numerous customers at taverns and also people at the Fair Play for Cuba Committee, where Oswald handed out strange leaflets.
Modus OperandiDuring the RFK assassination, Sirhan used a .22-caliber Iver-Johnson Cadet revolver to shoot his victims. Though he specifically targeted Kennedy, he also shot other members of the crowd, presumably by accident due to stray bullets.
- June 5, 1968: One killed and five injured in the Ambassador Hotel shooting:
- Robert F. Kennedy, 42 (New York Senator; shot once in the ear and head and also twice in the back; later died of his wounds the next day)
- Paul Schrade (United Automobile Workers union official; shot in the forehead; survived along with those below)
- William Weisel (ABC-TV unit manager; shot in the left abdomen)
- Ira Goldstein (reporter; shot in the hip and right rear buttock)
- Elizabeth Evans (shot in the head by a ricocheting bullet)
- Irwin Stroll, 7 (shot in the kneecap by a ricocheting bullet)
On Criminal Minds
While Sirhan wasn't mentioned or referenced in Criminal Minds, his mugshot could be seen in L.D.S.K. alongside the mugshots and photos of other infamous assassins.
- Los Angeles Times online article on Sirhan's background
- The Village online article on the RFK assassination