Sirhan Sirhan Goes Under the Knife

Killer of Robert F. Kennedy in 1968 gets stabbed in a California prison.

Last Friday, August 30, at the Raymond Donovan Correctional Facility near San Diego, a convict stabbed inmate B21014, also known as Sirhan, Sirhan Bishara. He had been admitted to the California Correctional System on April 23, 1969, less than one year after the act that landed him in prison.

On June 4, 1968, U.S. Senator Robert F. Kennedy had just won the Democrats’ California primary. The former Attorney General for his brother John F. Kennedy, gave a triumphant victory speech just after midnight, and as he left the event Sirhan Sirhan shot him. The Democrat presidential contender, only 42, died two days later. By some accounts, it was the first high-profile murder on American soil related to events in the Middle East, from whence the shooter emerged.

Sirhan Sirhan was born in 1944 in Jerusalem, which in 1948 came under control of Jordan. The following year, Jordan granted citizenship to those born in what is now the West Bank. Sirhan did not remain there, or in any part of the actual nation of Jordan.

During the 1950s Sirhan and his family moved to the United States and settled in Pasadena, California. Sirhan attended Pasadena City College, alma mater of Jackie Robinson, worked as a stable boy, and kept in touch with events in the Middle East. In June, 1967, Israel fought it out with Egypt, Syria and Jordan, emerging with control of the Sinai Peninsula, the Gaza Strip, and East Jerusalem, which had been under control of Jordan.

This victory ramped up Sirhan’s hatred of Israel and its American supporters such as Robert Kennedy, also a leading figure in the Civil Rights Movement. In 1962, a federal court ordered the University of Mississippi to admit James Meredith, its first African American student. Attorney General Kennedy sent U.S. Marshals and troops to enforce the order.

In 1963, Lee Harvey Oswald, a Communist who had lived in the Soviet Union, gunned down President John F. Kennedy in Dallas. The next year, Robert Kennedy ran a successful campaign for the U.S. Senate in New York. He had his sights set on the presidency and his foreign policy platform was strong on support for Israel. That enraged Sirhan Sirhan, and on June 4, 1968, one year after the Six Day War, he showed up at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles for Kennedy’s victory speech.

“I think we can end the divisions within the United States,” Kennedy said. “What I think is quite clear is that we can work together. We are a great country, a selfless and a compassionate country. So my thanks to all of you and on to Chicago and let’s win.” As Kennedy left through a kitchen pantry, Sirhan shot the candidate. Unlike Oswald, the shooter wasn’t able to get away.

Former National Football League lineman Roosevelt Grier tackled Sirhan, with an assist from Olympic decathlon champion Rafer Johnson and other prominent Kennedy supporters. As in 1963 with JFK, conspiracy theories surged. Sirhan confessed to the killing and said he did it for his country.

In 1969 Sirhan Sirhan was convicted of murder and sentenced to death, but like Charles Manson and his “family,” the assassin caught a break. In the early 1970s, California eliminated the death penalty, so Sirhan Sirhan became a lifer with possibility of parole, since denied 15 times. 

Sirhan was previously housed in protective custody at California’s Corcoran prison, once home to Charles Manson and mass murderer Juan Corona, both now deceased. In 2013 Sirhan gained a transfer to the Raymond Donovan facility, a softer institution that provides “mental health and rehabilitative programs.” There last Friday an unnamed inmate stabbed Sirhan Sirhan in the neck.

The Kennedy killer survived and by September 3 the 75-year-old was back in his cell. Conspiracy theories are not surging about the attack on Sirhan, but the stabbed assassin does give cause for reflection, especially in the state governed by Democrat Gavin Newsom.

Earlier this year, Newsom reprieved all 737 murderers on California’s death row. These were the worst of the worst, including Luis Bracamontes, who gunned down two police officers in Sacramento in 2014 and said he wished he’d killed more cops. Also gaining a reprieve was “Tool Box Killer” Lawrence Bittaker, who raped and killed five teenage girls in 1979 after torturing them with pliers and screwdrivers.

Had Sirhan Sirhan been on death row, the Kennedy killer would also have gained a reprieve. In California, any assassin can take the life of any innocent victim, including a presidential candidate, and be sure of keeping his or her own life. In reality, the situation is much worse.

California Senate Bill 1391, signed by Jerry Brown last September, bans prosecution of criminals under the age of 16 as adults, whatever the gravity of their crime. Under this law, any criminal under the age of 16 could murder two, five, or ten candidates, escape prosecution as an adult, serve time in comfy juvenile facilities, and gain release at the age of 25.

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