Sirhan Sirhan, the alleged killer of Robert Kennedy, was denied parole again at a hearing this past February. Over 70 years old now, Sirhan has seen many parole hearings come and go.
What made this one unusual was the presence of Paul Schrade, 91 years old, who in 1968 was labor chairman of RFK's aborted presidential campaign, and a good friend of Senator Kennedy. Schrade was also one of the victims of the shooting in the pantry at the Ambassador Hotel.
But Schrade was not there in the typical role of a victim at a convicted killer's parole hearing. Instead, Schrade used the hearing as a forum to challenge the court's verdict in the case against Sirhan, to lay out facts which contradict it, and even to apologize to the man who remains in prison for a crime he claims he cannot remember.
The entire dramatic hearing is captured in a 212-page transcript, now available online here at MFF courtesy of author, filmmaker, and advocate Shane O'Sullivan. Paul Schrade himself also sent us a copy of the transcript.
Read the full transcript of the Feb 10, 2016 parole hearing
The first two-thirds of the hearing are much like previous hearings, with the parole board members reviewing Sirhan's prison history and attempting to elicit remorse for his actions. Attempts by Sirhan or his attorneys, William Pepper and Laurie Dusek at present, to challenge the facts of the case are firmly rebuffed.
But on page 159 of the transcript Paul Schrade is given an opportunity to speak, and speak he does, complaining the "I didn't know that you were going to be as venomous about Sirhan as you were today" and continuing:
"...if you were in the District Attorney's office and studied the record you would know the record of the prosection shows that Sirhan couldn't and didn't shoot Robert Kennedy. And I'm prepared to present some of that information today. And I wanted Sirhan here today because I apologize to him and to the Panel for not being here earlier and presenting this." (p. 160)
After mentioning Joling and Praag's analysis of an audiotape and their finding of 13 shots being fired in the pantry during the RFK assassination, Schrade continued:
"Kennedy was a man of justice. And first of all, I want to continue, you know, my statement about Sirhan that I know that he didn't kill Robert Kennedy. And I'm here because of that.....Kennedy was a man of justice. So far, justice has not been served in this case.....There are no conspiracy theories needed here. I'm referring only to official documents and scientific results. And the way I've been saying this to my friends these days is that my job is prosecuting the prosecutors in this case because they're the guilty ones in putting Sirhan in prison knowing that he didn't and couldn't do it and did it anyway and kept him there and has kept him here for so many years. Sirhan, I want to forgive you." (p. 162)
Schrade went on to describe the evidence for a second gunman in the pantry, and how the bullets which felled RFK could not have come from Sirhan's gun, and summarized:
"What I'm saying to you is that Sirhan himself was a victim and still is a victim. Obviously, there was someone else there in the pantry that also fired a gun. While Sirhan was standing in front of Bob Kennedy and the shots were creating a distraction, the other person -- the other shooter secretly fired at the Senator from behind and fatally wounded him." (p. 165)
Schrade then showed Commission Roberts and the other participants a letter "written in 2012 by my good friend Robert Kennedy, Junior." Schrade explained:
"Bobby wrote this letter to Eric Holder, the US Attorney General who is a friend of the Kennedy family who was then Attorney General. In his letter to Mr. Holder, Bobby requests that the Federal Authorities examine the Pruszynski recording, the only known audio recording made of his father's assassination at the Ambassador Hotel.....Van Praag found a total of 13 shots in the Pruszynski recording. Sirhan's one and only gun at the crime scene held no more than eight bullets and Sirhan had no opportunity to reload." (p. 165)
Schrade then delved into a lengthy explanation of the audio analysis and other witness and forensic evidence - well worth reading for those unfamiliar with the RFK assassination - showing that Sirhan's gun could not have fired the fatal shots, and argued for Sirhan's release:
"...I believe you should grant Sirhan Sirhan parole.....I know and you should know that Sirhan did not shoot Robert Kennedy.....He should never have been in prison over this although he did shooot other people.....and this is why I wanted you to know from me, Sirhan, that I forgive you for shooting me but knowing that you did not shoot Robert Kennedy." (p. 185)
At one point, Commission Roberts interjected, saying "Sir, can I ask you to bring it to a conclusion because you're - you know, quite frankly, you're losing us." Schrade objected that "I was told that I could speak as along as I want," to which Roberts replied "Because you -- because you might lose us. We want to make sure you don't lose us." Schrade responded:
"I think you've been lost for a long time." (p. 188)
Paul Schrade then wrapped up with some words about his friend Robert Kennedy:
"Let me finally say that I wouldn't be here today saying what I'm saying if it wasn't for my love of Robert Kennedy and what he meant to me and what he meant to the country and to the world. He was a fantastic person, the best politician I've met, and I've met many. And I have to do this because I figure that I am bearing witness for him because I know that he would not want to happen to -- what's happening to Sirhan to happen to him at all. He was a very forgiving person. And I want to honor his memory by talking about justice for Sirhan and justice for Robert Kennedy. Because we still don't know who that second gunman is even though the prosecution had plenty of evidence that there was a second gunman but proceeded against Sirhan anyway.....And that's why I bear witness today for Robert Kennedy. He deserves that. Justice deserves that. The memory of Robert Kennedy deserves that." (p. 189)
Sirhan Sirhan was denied parole, and his next eligibility is set for five years from now.