Sirhan Sirhan, who assassinated Presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy, has gotten approval for parole from the California parole board. It’s now up to the Governor of California to decide whether to release him.
As with the assassinations of JKF and Martin Luther King, Jr., there’s a small cottage industry of fans and supporters who believe Sirhan Sirhan didn’t kill RFK alone, and that he may even be innocent. This is so even though Sirhan confessed to the crime at trial, and a notebook with his crazed anti-R.F.K. rantings (“R.F.K. Must Die!!”) was found. Of course, Sirhan later recanted his confession (a legally meaningless term) and now claims innocence.
The parallels with Söring’s case are modest but clear. Both wrote down bizarre fantasies of killing in notebooks, both initially confessed, both then recanted their confessions, both attracted supporters who quickly decided they were innocent and started looking obsessively for evidence to undermine the state’s theory of the case. And found some, since no prosecution or court case is perfect.
An investigative journalist named Dan Moldea became interested in the R.F.K. case, initially concluding the conspiracy theories might have merit. After a $75,000 advance, he began researching a book which would definitively prove there were two gunmen at the crime scene. He provides a fascinating account of his preparation for the book at his website (pdf).
As Moldea worked to exonerate Sirhan (if possible), he encountered a problem: All the evidence supposedly pointing to a conspiracy crumbled. The main focus of the theories, a security guard who had been standing behind RFK when RFK was shot, passed a polygraph test administered by the nation’s foremost polygrapher with flying colors. And the longer Moldea looked at the case and talked to Sirhan, the more incriminating evidence he found, and the more doubts he had about Sirhan’s honesty and innocence:
At that exact moment, as these words tumbled out of Sirhan’s mouth, I suddenly realized that Sirhan had been lying to me and everyone else all along.
In response, I stated firmly, “I am not a court of law. I am not a parole board. I’m a reporter who doesn’t want to be wrong. I want to know, Sirhan: Did you commit this crime?”
Sirhan fired right back, “I would not want to take the blame for this crime as long as there is exculpatory evidence that I didn’t do the crime. The jury was never given the opportunity to pass judgment on the evidence discovered since the trial, as well as the inconsistencies of the firearms evidence [the bullet evidence] at the trial. In view of this, no, I didn’t get a fair trial.”
With that reply, I finally began to understand Sirhan’s entire strategy. As long as people, like me, continued to put forth supposed new evidence, he still had a chance to experience freedom. And, more than any other person in recent years, I had been keeping this case alive with all of my supposed new revelations about alleged extra bullets and the possibility that at least two guns had been fired at the crime scene.
As I sat there, I became furious with myself for nearly being hoodwinked by Sirhan and the circumstances of this entire case. I didn’t even attempt to conceal my feelings.
Moldea later summarizes his findings and issues a warning:
In the end, while Sirhan’s guilt is reaffirmed, two men wrongly accused for twenty-seven years—one a police criminalist and security guard Cesar—are finally vindicated.
Indeed, the LAPD did solve this murder in 1968. But, nearly twenty-seven years later, I have solved this case by finally explaining why the evidence of a possible second gunman appears as it does.
Lessons learned? Placing into a new context what I had known all along about this case, I now realize that even law-enforcement officials—who possess the training, qualifications, and experience to determine
the significance of crime-scene evidence—do make mistakes if their abilities are not put to the test under the proper circumstances and conditions.
In other words, if one does not account for occasional official mistakes and incompetence, then nearly every such murder could appear to be a conspiracy, particularly if a civilian investigator—like me, with limited access and resources—is looking for one.
Cops and prosecutors make mistakes, just like anyone. As a result, there will be unanswered questions left in every murder investigation. The trick is knowing which ones matter. As Moldea found out, the unanswered questions about RFK’s assassination simply don’t matter. Neither do the ones about the Haysom murders.