THE TORTURED LOGIC BEHIND SIRHAN SIRHAN’S PAROLE DENIAL
By SHANE OSULLIVAN
In the newly released transcript of Sirhan Sirhan’s parole hearing on February 10, we discover why—at nearly 72 years of age—the convicted murderer of Bobby Kennedy “continues to pose an unreasonable risk of danger to society or a threat to public safety and is therefore not suitable for parole.”
Since its landmark opinion in the Lawrence case in 2008, the California Supreme Court has required the parole board to provide “some evidence” that a prisoner is “currently dangerous” when denying parole. This, and pressure to reduce prison overcrowding, has seen parole grant rates for “lifers” jump from 8 percent in 2008 to 33 percent in 2014.
A Stanford Law School study in 2011 found that, of 860 murderers paroled in California since 1995, only five reoffended and none were convicted of another murder.
But, as we’ll see, the tortured logic used by one of the commissioners to compute Sirhan’s current threat level gives him little hope of freedom anytime soon.
As described in my previous piece, the hearing was hotly contested. On one side, David Dahle, representing the L.A. County District Attorney’s office, called Sirhan a “terrorist.” On the other, Sirhan’s attorney William Pepper and shooting victim Paul Schrade called him “a political prisoner” and condemned his inhumane treatment.
In his victim impact statement, Schrade criticized Dahle for his “venomous” attack on Sirhan, saying the assassination was a political crime but it’s “also a political crime keeping him in prison.”
Pepper and Schrade were both close to Bobby Kennedy and invoked his name in calling for Sirhan’s release. Pepper, who was Citizens’ Chairman for Kennedy’s Senate run in 1964, said:
“If Bob Kennedy were alive and were viewing [the available evidence, he] would urge this Panel to finally grant this man parole.”