U.S.

RFK murder devastated nation. Deny parole for Kennedy killer.

Correction: An earlier version of this column mischaracterized who ran in the 1968 California Democratic primary. 

The recent recommendation by the two members of the California Parole Board to release Sirhan Sirhan, the Palestinian militant who in 1968 assassinated Democratic presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy, incensed many Americans. As well it should.

However, Sirhan’s fate ultimately rests in the hands of Gov. Gavin Newsom. Having survived last month’s recall vote, Newsom should reward his supporters by doing the right thing: denying Sirhan his freedom. 

Sirhan’s parole eligibility is the result of a statutory quirk of history. Back in the 1960s, few states, particularly those with the death penalty, had life without parole eligibility as a sentencing option. For capital crimes, it was either life (with the possibility of parole) or death. 

Sirhan was indeed condemned to die. But when capital punishment was temporarily eliminated in the early 1970s, his sentence was changed and he automatically became parole eligible. Today, every state but one (Alaska) maintains life without parole as a sentencing option, regardless of whether the death penalty is on the books.  

Every few years, Sirhan has been reviewed for parole release and denied. Most people expected that he would eventually perish in prison just like Charles Manson, another of the California cohort of condemned prisoners who automatically became parole eligible in the 1970s. In certain cases, parole eligibility should be nothing but an empty gesture.

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