SAN JOSE (CBS SF/AP) — An attorney for Sirhan Sirhan on Tuesday evening said she would seek a judicial review after Gov. Gavin Newsom earlier announced he would not grant parole to the man convicted of killing Robert F. Kennedy.

“After decades in prison, (Sirhan) has failed to address the deficiencies that led him to assassinate Senator Kennedy,” Newsom said in an op-ed, published in the Los Angeles Times. “Mr. Sirhan lacks the insight that would prevent him from making the same types of dangerous decisions he made in the past.”

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The governor later released an official statement on his office’s website that further outlined the reasons behind his decision, saying he felt Sirhan “currently poses an unreasonable threat to public safety.”

Newsom cited several factors behind his decision, including “Mr. Sirhan’s refusal to accept responsibility for his crime, lack of insight and accountability required to support his safe release, failure to disclaim violence committed in his name, and failure to mitigate his risk factors.”

A copy of Governor Newsom’s parole reversal decision can be found online.

Thursday evening, KPIX received a statement from Angela Berry, one of Sirhan’s attorneys, who said she would seek a judicial review.

“While I appreciate that the release of Mr. Sirhan presents Governor Newsom with a challenging political calculation, the legal decision for his release is clear and straight-forward. We are confident that the judicial review of the governor’s decision will show that the governor got it wrong,” the statement read. “The California Supreme Court has declared that life prisoners have a due process right to meaningful consideration for parole. Parole is presumed and it will only be denied under the law if the prisoner
poses a current unreasonable risk to the public if released. Not an iota of evidence exists to suggest Mr. Sirhan is still a danger to society.”

The statement went on to say that Governor is “ignoring the law” by overruling his own experts and denying Sirhan’s parole, despite the fact that the recommendation for his release has passed “three levels of scrutiny” by the two-member Parole Board panel, the entire Parole Board — whose members are selected by the governor — and the Parole Board’s legal team.

The statement also said Newsom’s rationale for denying parole “is misleading and omits crucial information.”

The announcement comes a day after a press conference Wednesday at a COVID testing site in South Los Angeles where Newsom was asked about the timing of his decision, which has lingered on his desk for months since a two-person panel of parole commissioners approved Sirhan’s release last August.

“It was supposed to be a few weeks ago for different reasons … It has to be Friday, don’t tell anyone (it will be) tomorrow,” he said with a chuckle, looking into the bank of media cameras. “I can’t lie. I don’t want to mislead.”

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When asked about two of RFK’s sons — Douglas and Robert F. Kennedy Jr. — supporting Sirhan’s release, Newsom replied: “The overwhelming majority of the Kennedy and Shriver families are opposed to Mr. Sirhan’s release.”

Newsom’s announcement may come in the San Francisco Bay Area Thursday where he has an 11 a.m. news conference scheduled to discuss the infrastructure investments in his 2022 budget.

The parole panel’s decision tore open decades-old wounds lingering from the murders of RFK and his brother, President John F. Kennedy, who was assassinated in 1963.

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“This is very raw and emotional for people,” said Newsom, who keeps RFK photos in both his official and home offices, including one of Kennedy with his late father, during the months he was in the midst of his decision process.

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Fifteen times, parole panels had rejected freeing Sirhan, now 77, before deciding that he is no longer a danger to public safety.

New laws since his last previous parole hearing in 2016 meant the panel had to consider that Sirhan committed the offense at a young age when he was 24, he is now an elderly prisoner, and the Christian Palestinian who emigrated from Jordan had suffered childhood trauma from the conflict in the Middle East.

Also, for the first time, Los Angeles County prosecutors weren’t at the parole hearing to object, under District Attorney George Gascón’s policy that prosecutors should not be involved in deciding whether prisoners are ready for release.

RFK’s son Douglas Kennedy has told the parole panel that Sirhan was “worthy of compassion and love.” Robert F. Kennedy Jr. wrote to the panel urging that Sirhan be freed, citing his ”impressive record of rehabilitation.”

But six of Kennedy’s nine surviving children urged Newsom to block the release of a man who “took our father from our family and he took him from America.” The statement was signed by Joseph P. Kennedy II, Courtney Kennedy, Kerry Kennedy, Christopher G. Kennedy, Maxwell T. Kennedy, and Rory Kennedy.

Sirhan has consistently said he doesn’t recall shooting Kennedy and wounding five others at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles. But he told parole commissioners that he takes responsibility for killing a man he called “the hope of the world.”

He was initially sentenced to death, but that sentence was commuted to life when the California Supreme Court briefly outlawed capital punishment in 1972.

Sirhan’s attorney, Angela Berry, said in a written argument for his release that he suffers a heart condition and has survived prostate cancer, valley fever and having his throat slashed by another prisoner in 2019.

If freed, Munir Sirhan says his older brother can live with him, if he is not deported to Jordan. Sirhan Sirhan has waived his right to fight deportation.

“We are just two old brothers who wish to live out the rest of our lives together,” he wrote to the parole board.

After the parole panel’s decision, corrections officials released 101 pages of those documents and letters from across the nation, all but one supporting Sirhan’s release.

Some compared him to a political prisoner or advanced various conspiracy theories around Sirhan’s involvement or the assassinations of both Kennedy brothers. Many were clearly part of an organized effort, with similar wording or fill-in-the-blank responses.

Others were more personal.

One man recalled how, as a 19-year-old college student, he traveled by bus to an inner-city neighborhood to get out the vote for Robert Kennedy.

“He was a person who I loved and respected and in whom I had deep confidence that he would put a quick end to that unjust and immoral war in Vietnam,” wrote the man, whose contact information was redacted.

Instead, the man was drafted in 1971.

“Sirhan’s involvement in RFK’s murder changed my life,” he wrote. “But looking at life from this end, I forgive him.”

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