RFK killer claims an unusual defense
Last week marked the 45th anniversary of the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy. His senseless and tragic death took place June 5, 1968, in the kitchen of the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles.
Moments before entering the kitchen, Kennedy had given a victory speech after winning the California Democratic primary for president of the United States.
Kennedy was being ushered through the hotel kitchen by a group of campaign volunteers. Suddenly, he was shot by Sirhan Sirhan, a young man angered over Kennedy’s pro-Israeli position.
Less than five years earlier, Kennedy’s brother, President John F. Kennedy, was struck down by an assassin’s bullet and only two months earlier civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. was slain in Memphis, Tenn., by an assassin.
Sirhan was convicted 10 months later and within a week of his conviction, he was sentenced to death. The sentence was commuted to life in prison in 1972 after the California Supreme Court vacated all pending death sentences.
Sirhan remains in a California prison and has been denied parole 14 times, most recently in 2011. However, his lawyers have come up with a new plan for his release that reads like the plot of a Hollywood movie.
Although Sirhan’s conviction occurred more than four decades ago, he has asked the court to review his conviction through a Writ of Habeas Corpus. His direct appeal rights have long been exhausted but habeas corpus remains a viable option.
In 2008, Sirhan’s lawyers hired memory expert Daniel Brown, a professor of psychology at Harvard Medical School.
Brown interviewed Sirhan for 60 hours over a three-year period. Sirhan now remembers that when he fired his shots in the hotel kitchen he believed he was at a gun range and shooting at circular targets, reported CNN.
Sirhan’s lawyers believe he was programmed to cause a distraction in the kitchen, allowing a second gunman to secretly shoot Kennedy from behind. Lawyers say that Professor Brown believes a mysterious young woman in a polka-dot dress lured Sirhan into the kitchen as part of a mind-control plot.
The conspiracy claim is bolstered somewhat by an analysis of a recently uncovered tape recording of the shooting. The recording is the only known soundtrack of the assassination, and it reveals at least 13 shot sounds over a period of less than six seconds. This appears to contravene the theory at trial that eight shots were fired by Sirhan.
Sirhan’s claims of hypno programming and assassination might make for an action-packed Hollywood thriller — if it hadn’t already been written, produced and premiered more than 50 years ago. “The Manchurian Candidate” released by MGM in 1962 starred Frank Sinatra and portrayed a supposed war hero who was brainwashed into becoming an unwitting assassin.
At times, truth is stranger than fiction. In the case of Sirhan Sirhan, fiction is being used to cobble together a cockamamie claim that is beyond strange and just downright fantastic.
Matthew T. Mangino is of counsel with Luxenberg, Garbett, Kelly and George and the former district attorney for Lawrence County, Pa.