Sirhan Sirhan, convicted of the 1968 murder of Robert F. Kennedy, came face to face with man who testified at his trial and has long advanced the argument that Sirhan fired shots that night — but not the ones that killed Kennedy.
Sirhan Sirhan, convicted of killing Robert F Kennedy, during his Feb 2016 hearing in San Diego where he was denied parole.
Photograph Credits: Gregory Bull/AP
Sirhan Bishara Sirhan has been denied parole for the 15th time after telling a board that he could not remember shooting John F Kennedy’s brother in 1968 and was therefore unable to confess.
In the highly charged atmosphere, a witness in the 1969 trial of Sirhan Sirhan came forward at the hearing to call for the convicted man’s release. Paul Schrade, now 91, who was also shot at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles, apologized for missing Sirhan’s previous 14 parole hearings. He told Sirhan: “I should have been here long ago and that’s why I feel guilty for not being here to help you and to help me.” After the hearing, while Sirhan was being taken away, Schrade shouted, “Sirhan, I’m so sorry this is happening to you. It’s my fault.”
Parole commissioners, however, were unmoved. “This crime impacted the nation, and I daresay it impacted the world,” commissioner Brian Roberts said. “It was a political assassination of a viable Democratic presidential candidate.”
Mr Schrade was alongside the candidate when five people were injured in the June 5th shooting. Mr Schrade was shot in the head.
The two men faced each other at the parole hearing for the first time since Mr Schrade testified at Sirhan’s 1969 trial.
Mr Schrade pleaded for the release of Sirhan at the hearing and apologized to him for not doing more over the years to secure his freedom.
A 2008 update to Shane O’Sullivan’s 2007 documentary film, RFK Must Die featuring new audio evidence that suggests a second gunman fired the shot that killed Bobby Kennedy.
By Paul Schrade, Reader Supported News, 11 February 2016
Full text of Paul Schrade’s prepared remarks for delivery at Sirhan Sirhan’s February 10, 2016 Parole Suitability Hearing.
Transcription provided by Brad Johnson, Concept Producer for Rob Beemer, Interesting Stuff Entertainment, Los Angeles (Rob accompanied Paul Schrade to Sirhan’s parole hearing, acting as Mr. Schrade’s support person).
Paul Schrade giving testimony at Sirhan Sirhan’,Feb 2016 parole hearing
Photograph Credits: Gregory Bull/AP
Good Morning, Gentlemen:
I am Paul Schrade of Los Angeles. I am 91 years old. And back when I was 43, I was among six persons shot at the old Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles at just after Midnight on June 5th, 1968.
I was shot along with Senator Robert F. Kennedy, who had just won California’s Democratic Primary Election for the Presidency of the United States. Five of us survived our wounds. And as history knows, Senator Kennedy was fatally wounded.
I am here to speak for myself, a shooting victim, and to bear witness for my friend, Bob Kennedy.
Kennedy was a man of justice. But, so far, justice has not been served in this case. And I feel obliged as both a shooting victim and as an American to speak out about this – and to honor the memory of the greatest American I’ve ever known, Robert Francis Kennedy.
Sirhan Bishara Sirhan was originally scheduled for release in 1984 but, after intense political pressure, his parole date was rescinded and he has since been denied 14 times.
In order for you to make an accurate determination of Sirhan Sirhan’s parole, you need to know my feelings on this case and the full picture of what actually happened.
Sirhan, I forgive you.
The evidence clearly shows you were not the gunman who shot Robert Kennedy. There is clear evidence of a second gunman in that kitchen pantry who shot Robert Kennedy. One of the bullets – the fatal bullet – struck Bob in the back of the head. Two bullets struck Bob literally in his back. A fourth bullet struck the back of his coat’s upper right seam and passed harmlessly through his coat. I believe all four of those bullets were fired from a second gunman standing behind Bob. You were never behind Bob, nor was Bob’s back ever exposed to you.
Indeed, Sirhan, the evidence not only shows that you did not shoot Robert Kennedy but it shows that you could not have shot Robert Kennedy.
Gentlemen, the evidence clearly shows that Sirhan Sirhan could not and did not shoot Senator Bob Kennedy.
Several days ago, I made sure that several documents were submitted to this board for you to review. If you have not done so as yet, I would ask you to please review them very carefully during your deliberation. I will be glad to re-submit these documents to you, here today.
I believe, after you review these documents, that it should become clear to you that Sirhan Sirhan did not shoot – and could not have shot – Robert Kennedy. What I am saying to you is that Sirhan himself was a victim.
Obviously there was someone else there in that pantry also firing a gun. While Sirhan was standing in front of Bob Kennedy and his shots were creating a distraction, the other shooter secretly fired at the senator from behind and fatally wounded him. Bob died 25 hours later.
Gentlemen, I believe you should grant Sirhan Sirhan parole. And I ask you to do that today.
Along with what Sirhan’s lawyers have submitted to you, the following are the documents that I made sure were submitted to you and which should also be factored into your decision today.
First, I want to show you this. It’s a letter written in 2012 by my good friend, Robert F. Kennedy Junior. Bobby wrote this letter to Eric Holder, who was then the Attorney General of the United States. In his letter to Mr. Holder, Bobby requests that federal authorities examine the Pruszynski Recording, the only known audio recording made of his father’s assassination at the Ambassador Hotel. The recording was uncovered in 2004 at the California State Archives by CNN International senior writer Brad Johnson.
This next document is a federal court declaration from audio expert Philip Van Praag, who Johnson recruited to analyze the Pruszynski Recording.
In this document, Van Praag declares that his analysis of the recording concludes that two guns were fired in the Robert Kennedy shooting.
Van Praag found a total of 13 gunshots 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 it.
Van Praag also found what he calls “double-shots” – meaning two gunshots fired so close together that they could not both have come from Sirhan’s Iver Johnson Cadet revolver. Van Praag actually found two sets of these “double-shots.”
Additionally, he found that five of the 13 gunshots featured a unique audio resonance characteristic that could not have been produced by Sirhan’s gun model, meaning those five shots were fired from a second gun of a different make.
Van Praag further found that those five gunshots were fired in a direction heading away from Pruszynski’s microphone. Since the microphone was about 40 feet west of the Kennedy shooting, those five shots were fired in an eastward direction, which was opposite the westward direction that Sirhan is known to have fired his eight-shot Iver Johnson Cadet.
These documents are statements from two witnesses to the Robert Kennedy shooting, both of them assistant maître d’s for the Ambassador Hotel. These two men, Karl Uecker and Edward Minasian, escorted Robert Kennedy into the kitchen pantry immediately after the Senator delivered his victory speech in a hotel ballroom for having won the California Primary. Both Uecker and Minasian say Sirhan was in front of Bob Kennedy as the Senator walked toward Sirhan, meaning that Bob and Sirhan were facing each other. Both witnesses say Sirhan was still in front of Bob as Sirhan fired his gun. And both say that after Sirhan fired his first two shots, Uecker quickly pushed Sirhan against a steam table, placing Sirhan in a headlock while grabbing hold of Sirhan’s firing arm, forcing the tip of Sirhan’s gun to point away from where Bob Kennedy was and causing Sirhan to fire blindly his remaining six bullets.
In other words, Sirhan only had full control of his gun at the beginning, when he fired his first two shots, one of which hit me. Sirhan had no opportunity to fire four precisely-placed, point-blank bullets into the back of Bob Kennedy’s head or body while he was pinned against that steam table and while he and Bob were facing each other.
This document is the official Robert Kennedy autopsy report summary. It shows that all bullets directed at Senator Kennedy were fired from behind him at point-blank range. As the autopsy states, and as these drawings show, the bullets traveled from back-to-front at steep upward trajectories. One bullet struck Senator Kennedy at the back of the head, two bullets at the right rear armpit and a fourth bullet at the right rear shoulder of his jacket, which passed harmlessly through his jacket.
Again, Sirhan’s bullets could not have struck the back of Bob Kennedy’s head or the back of his body or the back of his jacket’s right shoulder, as the autopsy clearly shows took place, because Sirhan was never in a position to administer any of those four Kennedy shots. The prosecution never placed Sirhan in that location and position.
These are documents from the Los Angeles Police Department that reveal LAPD misconduct in the police investigation of the Robert Kennedy murder. They detail evidence that was destroyed while Sirhan’s appeal was still pending as well as a photograph that was acknowledged by the LAPD to be “effective rebuttal” but was withheld from the defense team.
Indeed, the LAPD and L.A. County District Attorney knew two hours after the shooting of Senator Kennedy that he was shot by a second gunman and they had conclusive evidence that Sirhan could not – and did not – do it. The official record shows that the prosecution at Sirhan’s trial never had one witness – and had no physical nor ballistic evidence – to prove Sirhan shot Bob Kennedy. Evidence locked up for 20 years shows that the LAPD destroyed physical evidence and hid ballistic evidence exonerating Sirhan – and covered up conclusive evidence that a second gunman fatally wounded Robert Kennedy.
This document is a memo written by Criminalist Larry Baggett, who investigated the Robert Kennedy shooting for the LAPD. The Baggett memo states that the bullets that hit Senator Kennedy and William Weisel, another shooting victim in the pantry, were not fired from the same gun. The memo also states that the bullet that traveled upward through Bob Kennedy’s body and into his neck was not fired from Sirhan’s revolver. Such a finding would be proof that Sirhan did not shoot Robert Kennedy.
Mr. Deputy District Attorney, based on all of this information and more, I ask that you inform Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey that I am formally requesting her to order a new investigation of the Robert F. Kennedy assassination. I will also be making the same request of Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck.
Please note, Mr. Deputy District Attorney, that I am using the word “new” here. I am not requesting that the old investigation simply be re-opened. For that would only lead to the same old wrong conclusions. I am requesting a new investigation so that after nearly 50 years, justice finally can be served for me as a shooting victim; for the four other shooting victims who also survived their wounds; for Bob Kennedy who did not survive his wounds because his were the most grievously suffered in that kitchen pantry; for the people of the United States who Bob loved so much and had hoped to lead, just as his brother, President John F. Kennedy, had led only a few years before; and of course for justice, to which Bob Kennedy devoted his life.
Furthermore, Mr. Deputy District Attorney, I ask that you please also tell the District Attorney, Ms. Lacey, that I would appreciate the opportunity to personally meet with her in Los Angeles at her earliest convenience. Would you please convey my message to her?
I hope you will consider all of the accurate details of this crime that I have presented in order for you to accurately determine Sirhan Sirhan’s eligibility for parole. If you do this the right way and the just way, I believe you will come to the same conclusion I have: that Sirhan should be released. If justice is not your aim, then of course you will not.
The best example of this can be found in this statement of Los Angeles District Attorney John Van de Kamp.
Again, gentlemen, I believe you should grant Sirhan Sirhan parole. And I ask you to do that today in the name of Robert F. Kennedy and in the name of justice.
Thank you. That concludes my remarks.
* * * * *
Sirhan Bishara Sirhan: trained by coercive persuasion techniques to serve as a distractor at RFK’s assassination
Another important document submitted to the parole board two days before the hearing was a new declaration by Dr. Daniel Brown, a psychologist from Harvard Medical School. Since May 2008, Dr. Brown has spent over 100 hours with Sirhan, including a two-day visit last September.
The aim of these sessions was threefold: to “conduct a detailed forensic psychological assessment” of Sirhan’s mental status; to allow Sirhan “to develop a more complete memory...for the events leading up to and of the night of the assassination”; and to determine whether or not Sirhan was the “subject of coercive suggestive influence” at the time of the shooting and if this accounted for his amnesia.
The declaration states that, in Dr. Brown’s expert opinion, Sirhan is normal, does not have a psychiatric condition or personality disorder and shows no evidence of any violence risk if released (the primary consideration for any parole panel).
In his sessions with Sirhan, Dr. Brown found “a variety of personality factors that are associated with high vulnerability to coercive suggestive influence: an extreme dissociative coping style; hypnotically-induced altered personality states; extremely high hypnotizability; and high social compliance”:
Dr. Brown’s declaration traces the seeds of this “coercive suggestive influence” back to his experiences at a local race track, where,
After a fall from a horse at a ranch in Corona in 1966, Sirhan was briefly hospitalized but, as Dr. Brown notes,
Dr. Brown notes that Sirhan’s “dissociative vulnerability” causes him “on rare occasions to shift self-states”:
On the night of the assassination, Sirhan recalls being led in the Ambassador Hotel pantry by a girl in a polka-dot dress. As Robert Kennedy was approaching him, Dr. Brown writes, “this same woman taped [sic] him on the elbow twice (a common hypnotic cue) following which he immediately went into ‘range mode,’ and believed he was shooting at circle targets at a local firing range.”
Given the new evidence of a second gunman found on the Pruszynski recording, it is Dr. Brown’s expert opinion “that Mr. Sirhan was trained through a variety of coercive persuasion techniques to serve as a distractor on the night of the assassination, so that a second professional shooter could render the fatal shot.”
Sirhan fired his gun on cue, carrying out an involuntary post-hypnotic suggestion and his “strong dissociative coping style...would cause him to be ‘out of it’ and be confused and amnesic for such actions”:
Portion of the most famous page of Sirhan Sirhan’s notebook
Photo credit: California State Archives
The self-incriminating writing in Sirhan’s notebooks has always been cited as primary evidence of premeditated murder. The most famous page begins: “May 18 9.45 AM – 68 My determination to eliminate R.F.K. is becoming more the more of an unshakable obsession.” Underneath it are a series of concentric circles that bear a strong resemblance to targets at a firing range.
After exploring Sirhan’s “responsiveness to automatic writing in hypnosis,” Dr. Brown concluded that the automatic writing in his notebooks was “a product of coercive persuasion by a third party”:
Dr. Brown compares the notebooks to “a coerced internalized false confession” and claims they should have been ruled inadmissible at trial. He concludes:
* * * * *
The following was filed by attorneys Dr. William F. Pepper, Esq. and Laurie D. Dusek, Esq., counsels for Mr. Sirhan, with the Supreme Court of the United States., July 2016 (23 pages):
Supreme Court of the United States
SPRING TERM, 2016
SIRHAN BISHARA SIRHAN
P.D. BRAZELTON, WARDEN E
On Petition for a Writ of Certiorari to the
United States Court of Appeals,
For the Ninth Circuit
PETITION FOR A WRIT OF CERTIORARI
. . .
Petitioner, Sirhan Bishara Sirhan, a prisoner in the California State Prison system, subsequent to being arrested and charged with the murder of Robert F. Kennedy, has not only been previously denied, on appeal his petition for a new trial, on his habeas corpus petition for an evidentiary hearing but also he has been denied a Certificate of Appealability even in the force of powerful new forensic evidence.
Petitioners, respectfully prays that a Writ of Certiorari issue to review the decision of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.
. . .
REASONS FOR GRANTING THE WRIT
Subsequent to being arrested and charged with the murder of Senator Robert F. Kennedy, Appellant was represented at trial by his lead counsel, Grant Cooper. Appellant, to his detriment, never understood the degree and effect of the conflict, which would totally compromise his opportunity for a fair trail and compel ineffective assistance of counsel. Grant Cooper, the head counsel, during the entire trial was under a federal criminal indictment and subject to all the leverage and intimidation that imposes.
. . .
It is hard to conceive of a more blatant, textbook, example of ineffective assistance of Counsel. Defense counsel’s acts and omissions in this capitol case - Petitioner is only still with us because the California Legislature abolished the death penalty - ensured that a guilty verdict and a sentence to death was obtained.
Needless to say, the pending indictment against defense counsel Cooper went away after his performance.
The Petition for a Writ of Certiorari should be granted.
The first nine endnotes are documents Paul Schrade referenced during his testimony as well as observations he shares here: