Gascon, who said he idolised the Kennedys and mourned RFK’s assassination, believed the prosecutors’ role ends at sentencing and they should not influence decisions to release prisoners.
Sirhan, who was in a blue prison uniform with a paper towel folded like a handkerchief and tucked into his pocket, smiled as Douglas Kennedy spoke at the Friday (Saturday AEST) parole hearing.
Sirhan told members of the parole board he had learnt to control his anger and was committed to living peacefully.
“I would never put myself in jeopardy again,” he said. “You have my pledge. I will always look to safety and peace and non-violence.”
Some Kennedy family members, Los Angeles law enforcement officers and the public submitted letters opposing Sirhan’s release, Parole Board Commissioner Robert Barton said at the start of the proceeding where Sirhan appeared via video link from San Diego County prison.
Sirhan, a Christian Palestinian from Jordan, has acknowledged he was angry at Kennedy for his support of Israel. He has served 53 years for murdering Kennedy.
When asked about how he felt about the Middle East conflict today, Sirhan broke down crying and temporarily couldn’t speak.
“Take a few deep breaths,” said Barton, who noted the conflict had not gone away and still touched a nerve.
Sirhan said he didn’t follow what was going on in the region but thought about the suffering of refugees.
“The misery that those people are experiencing. It’s painful,” Sirhan said.
If released, Sirhan could be deported to Jordan, and Barton said he was concerned he might become a “symbol or lightning rod to foment more violence”.
Sirhan said he was too old to be involved in the Middle East conflict and would detach himself from it.
Paul Schrade, who was wounded in the shooting, also spoke in favour of his release.
Robert F. Kennedy jnr, who has spoken in favour of Sirhan’s release in the past, wrote in favour of paroling him.
Sirhan was sentenced to death after his conviction, but that sentence was commuted to life when the California Supreme Court briefly outlawed capital punishment in 1972. At his last parole hearing in 2016, commissioners concluded after more than three hours of intense testimony that Sirhan did not show adequate remorse or understand the enormity of his crime.
Sirhan has in the past stuck to his account that he doesn’t remember the killing. However, he has recalled events before the crime in detail — going to a shooting range that day, visiting the hotel in search of a party and returning after realising he was too drunk to drive after downing Tom Collins cocktails.
Just before the assassination, he drank coffee in a hotel pantry with a woman to whom he was attracted. The next thing he has said he remembered was being choked and unable to breathe as he was taken into custody. At his 2016 hearing, he said he felt remorse for any crime victim but couldn’t take responsibility for the shooting.