As the 50th anniversary of Robert F. Kennedy's assassination approaches, two of his children have come forward to say that they believe evidence Sirhan Sirhan was not the lone gunman.
Fifty years ago on June 5, Robert F. Kennedy was fatally wounded by gunfire at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles, where he was celebrating his win in the California Primaries.
A 24-year-old Palestinian immigrant named Sirhan Sirhan was immediately apprehended, convicted of Kennedy's murder, confessed, and was sentenced to death in 1969. That sentence was commuted to life in prison after California abolished the death penalty in 1972.
Now, two of Kennedy's children, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., an environmental attorney and activist, and Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, the former Lieutenant Governor of Maryland, are calling for the investigation into their father's death to be re-opened, citing concerns that a theory there was a second gunman may hold some weight.
Paul Schrade, who was one of the five other people shot and injured at The Ambassador, sustaining a bullet to the head, has long maintained that there was a second assassin there that night.
As evidence, he cites the autopsy report's findings that Kennedy was shot at point-blank range from behind. Schrade's own memory of the events, and those of others who were injured or tackled Sirhan, are that he never got behind RFK or close enough to him to shoot him at such close range.
An audio recording of the attack, recorded by a Polish journalist who had left his recorder on after Kennedy's podium speech, indicates 13 gunshots, but the .22-caliber revolver Sirhan used held only eight bullets.
Sirhan has long maintained that he has no memory of shooting anyone, and his defense team has explored the idea that he was hypnotized.
While Schrade has been calling for a second investigation since 1974, RFK, Jr. only recently began to consider the possibility. In a bombshell story published by the Washington Post last week, he revealed that over Christmas of last year he spent three hours visiting Sirhan at the Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility outside of San Diego, and now believes that it was another gunman who mortally wounded his father.
“I went there because I was curious and disturbed by what I had seen in the evidence,” said Kennedy. “I was disturbed that the wrong person might have been convicted of killing my father. My father was the chief law enforcement officer in this country. I think it would have disturbed him if somebody was put in jail for a crime they didn’t commit.”
“There were too many bullets,” Robert F. Kennedy Jr. told the Post. “You can’t fire 13 shots out of an eight-shot gun.”
Then, this week, Kathleen Kennedy Townsend revealed to the Boston Globe that she supports her brother's change of mind, stating in an email "I think Bobby makes a compelling case."
Two of their other siblings (RFK had 11 children), Joseph P. Kennedy II and Kerry Kennedy, have made dissenting statements that they would not welcome a new investigation.
“The reason that people are interested in the circumstances of my father’s death is because of what he did with his life,” she said. “And I think we should focus on his life and not so much on his death — his moral imagination, his capacity for empathy, his quest to heal divisions, and his belief that one person can make a difference," Kerry Kennedy told the Globe.
A ceremony marking the 50th anniversary of RFK's death will be held next week at Arlington National Cemetery. His widow, Ethel, now 90, their 11 children, and other friends and family are expected to attend. Former President Bill Clinton will deliver remarks, as will RFK's grandson, Congressman Joseph P. Kennedy III.
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