Survivor of RFK Assassination Is OK with Parole for Sirhan Sirhan — and He Still Questions What Happened

Paul Schrade
Paul Schrade

Patrick T. Fallon/getty Paul Schrade in 2018

A campaign worker who was also shot in the assassination of Sen. Robert Kennedy in 1968 — and who nearly died, but survived — said he's more upset with police than with Sirhan Sirhan, the man recently granted parole after serving 53 years for murdering Kennedy.

Paul Schrade, 96, has long argued that Sirhan was not the only shooter, a disputed view that is shared by one of Kennedy's children.

"I don't excuse him for what he did, but I don't excuse the LAPD and the district attorneys for 52 years of saying he's guilty when he is not," Schrade told California TV station KGET in a story published this week.

Sirhan, 77, was granted parole on Friday and KGET reported that Schrade held no "animosity" toward him. (The parole vote is subject to review and the governor could overturn it before it takes effect.)

Two of Kennedy's sons — Douglas Kennedy and Robert F. Kennedy Jr. — supported releasing Sirhan Sirhan, and prosecutors declined to argue a position, under a new policy that removed them from parole proceedings.

The parole board determined that Sirhan no longer poses a threat to society and was suitably remorseful, according to the Associated Press.

"I'm overwhelmed just by being able to view Mr. Sirhan face to face," Douglas, who was barely a toddler when his dad was killed, said at Friday's parole hearing. "I've lived my life both in fear of him and his name in one way or another. And I am grateful today to see him as a human being worthy of compassion and love."

Paul Schrade
Paul Schrade

getty Paul Schrade after being shot in 1968

In a letter to the board, the younger Robert Kennedy likewise said he was "impressed by the genuineness of [Sirhan's] remorse for the indisputable part he played in my father's assassination. Sirhan wept, clenched my hands and asked for forgiveness."

Like Schrade, he also said, he didn't believe Sirhan was the only person responsible.

Others in the family vehemently disagreed with the parole decision: Sen. Kennedy's oldest son, former congressman Joseph P. Kennedy II, objected along with five of his siblings.

"Two commissioners of the 18-member California Parole Board made a grievous error last Friday in recommending the release of the man who murdered my father," he wrote in a statement released Sunday. "I understand that there are differing views about ending the sentence of this killer, including within my own family. But emotions and opinions do not change facts or history."

Schrade was one of five people shot in the attack at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles on June 5, 1968. Schrade was shot in the head as he and Sen. Kennedy, who was running for president, walked down a hallway.

Kennedy was shot immediately after and died from three bullet wounds to the head.

Sirhan, who had reportedly been motivated by pro-Palestinian sentiment in the conflict with Israel, was arrested at the scene.

Schrade was first believed to have died as well, according to KGET, but he was taken to a hospital and recovered after surgery to remove the bullet, although some fragments remain.

Robert F. Kennedy and Sirhan Bishara Sirhan
Robert F. Kennedy and Sirhan Bishara Sirhan

getty (2) Robert F. Kennedy (left) and Sirhan Sirhan

For decades, he has sought to prove that more than one shooter was involved in the assassination.

"Who was this guy they were covering up? Who was so important for the district attorneys to keep covering up for 52 years that shot RFK?" Schrade told KGET in the story this week. "I don't excuse him for what he did, but I don't excuse the LAPD and the district attorneys for 52 years of saying he's guilty when he is not."

Schrade told NPR that with Sirhan out of prison, authorities may be more inclined to focus on his theory of a second shooter.

"Getting him out of the picture means that we have a better chance of making the case," Schrade said. "We can get the second gunman identified and convicted — the second gunman killed Robert Kennedy."