RFK assassin’s parole recommendation ignites passions in divided family

MOST OF THOSE with first-hand memories of his assassination have probably reached initial eligibility for Social Security. But 53 years after Robert F. Kennedy was gunned down in a Los Angeles hotel, his murder is back in the news — and it is putting a fresh spotlight on divisions in a family that has repeatedly been forced to mourn in the harsh glare of public view. 

On Friday, the two California parole commissioners assigned to hear his case recommended that Sirhan Sirhan, who was convicted of Kennedy’s June 1968 murder, be released from prison, saying the 77-year-old no longer posed a threat to society. 

Sirhan, a Palestinian who was born in Jerusalem and said he was motivated by anger at Kennedy’s support for Israel, confessed to the murder and was sentenced to die in the California gas chamber. 

The Kennedys’ liberal impulses have often put them ahead of the curve on criminal justice reform issues, and even the most painful personal tragedies have not always dimmed that outlook. In 1969, Sen. Edward Kennedy, the sole surviving brother in the family, urged that Sirhan’s death sentence be reduced to life in prison. That subsequently happened while his case was on appeal when California abolished the death penalty in 1972. 

But to now release him from prison? That is a bridge too far for most of Robert Kennedy’s children. 

Six of Kennedy’s nine surviving offspring released a statement on Friday condemning the parole recommendation and vowing to fight it “every step of the way.” 

“We are devastated that the man who murdered our father has been recommended for parole,” the six siblings wrote. “We adamantly oppose the parole and release of Sirhan Sirhan and are shocked by a ruling that we believe ignores the standards of parole of a confessed, first-degree murderer in the state of California.”

One of the six, Joseph Kennedy II, who served 12 year in Congress, beginning in 1987, representing the Eighth District in Massachusetts, released a statement to the Globe on Sunday calling the ruling a “grievous error.” Another Kennedy son, Maxwell Kennedy, penned an op-ed in Los Angeles Times calling the thought of Sirhan’s release “sickening.” 

But two of RFK’s children support his release. Douglas Kennedy, a correspondent for Fox News who was 1 at the time of father’s murder, attended Friday’s hearing and at one point told Sirhan, “I do have some love for you.” Robert Kennedy Jr., who submitted a letter supporting his release, met with Sirhan in 2017. 

Paul Schrade, a labor organizer who was one of five people non-fatally wounded by gunfire that June night at the Ambassador Hotel, has insisted that there was more than one gunman and that Sirhan did not fire the shots that killed Kennedy. Robert Kennedy, Jr., has also said he does not believe Sirhan killed his father, but he is given to conspiracy theories and has been roundly criticized by his siblings for his outspoken opposition to vaccines. 

Sirhan is a long way from walking free. The full 17-member parole board must sign-off on the recommendation. The decision would then require the approval of California’s governor, Gavin Newsom, a Democrat currently fighting to survive a raucous and unpredictable recall campaign. 

But the landscape has clearly changed when it comes to criminal justice issues. 

Some of the current thinking and sentencing policies for murderers who have served decades in prison now argues for greater consideration of their release. One of the California parole commissioners who recommended Sirhan’s release, Robert Barton, said that laws passed since his last parole hearing five years ago require the board to consider factors such as his age at the time of the crime. Sirhan was 24 at the time of the assassination.

The New York Times reported that Friday’s parole hearing — Sirhan’s 16th over the decades he’s been imprisoned — was the first in which no prosecutor appeared to argue for his continued confinement. George Gascón, the reform-focused Los Angeles district attorney elected last year, has said his office’s default policy will be not to appear at parole hearings, arguing that the parole board has all the information needed to weigh a decision. 



Reckoning coming: More than 300,000 Massachusetts residents will lose federal unemployment insurance benefits at the end of this week, and no one is sure what the loss of the income will mean for them and the state. Many employers, particularly restaurants and retailers, think the shutdown of the federal programs will spur many of those benefiting from them to return to work and stop living off their benefits. But studies of what’s happened in a number of states that rejected the benefits earlier this year indicate relatively few people landed jobs quickly.

— The big question is why aren’t people returning to the workforce. The unemployment rate is 4.9 percent in Massachusetts and there are 270,000 jobs unfilled, 70,000 more than pre-pandemic. There is no single answer, but the list includes the high cost of childcare, COVID, and a possible realignment taking place in the workforce as people have used the time provided with the federal unemployment insurance benefits to rethink their careers.

— In many areas, there’s a mismatch between demand and supply of workers. In the food preparation and serving business, state data indicate there are 11,000 jobs available and 34,000 people from that industry on unemployment benefits. Approximately 27,000 of them have been taking advantage of the federal unemployment insurance programs. Some will find jobs in that industry when the federal programs come to an end at the end of the week, but most of them won’t.

— The Baker administration says the answer for many workers is retraining to find jobs in industry segments that are desperate for employees. The administration is seeking legislative approval to use $240 million in federal aid for a massive retraining effort capable of redirecting some 50,000 workers over a three-year period. Read more.

Boston mayoral race tight: The latest poll shows Boston City Councilor Michelle Wu with 24 percent, Councilor Annissa Essaibi George at 18 percent, acting Mayor Kim Janey at 16 percent, City Councilor Andrea Campbell at 14 percent, and John Barros at 2 percent. Read more.


Mass General Brigham: Allen Edinburg, the chair of the Westborough Board of Selectmen, says the board is fully supportive of Mass General Brigham’s plan to build a new facility in the community. Edinburg says critics are wrong in asserting Westborough is wealthy and white. Read more.

Mandatory vaccinations: Jerry Gurwitz of the Worcester Board of Health and Tracy O’Connell Novick of the Worcester School Committee says Massachusetts should require all teachers, staff, and eligible students to be vaccinated. Read more.

Plug for the arts: Emily Ruddock of MassCreative, calling for the cultural sector to receive its share of federal ARPA money, says we can’t afford to take the arts sector for granted. Read more.

Back to school: Stephen Guerriero, a sixth grade social studies teacher in the Needham Public Schools, says he is anxious, but optimistic, as students return to his classroom. Read more.





The three Democratic candidates for governor, Ben Downing, Danielle Allen, and Sonia Chang-Diaz, slam Gov. Charlie Baker for not going farther with COVID restrictions, while Republican candidate Geoff Diehl says Baker has gone too far. (Boston Globe


Globe columnist Shirley Leung pans the city’s withdrawal of the Boston Municipal Harbor Plan, saying the 363-page document was hardly hatched overnight in secret. 

Northampton expands its mask mandate. (Daily Hampshire Gazette)

Many agricultural fairs are resuming this year, though public health officials urge caution in attending. (MassLive)


A Beverly city councilor speaks out about his experience being hospitalized with a serious case of COVID-19 even after being vaccinated. (Salem News)

The Bristol County Sheriff’s Department deploys the first ever law enforcement dogs trained to sniff out the presence of COVID-19. (Standard-Times)


Among the 13 US service members killed last week at the Kabul airport was Marine Sgt. Johanny Rosario, a 25-year-old Lawrence High School graduate and one of two women service members to die in the terror attack. (Boston Globe) The Eagle-Tribune has more on Rosario’s life and death. 

Hurricane Ida knocks out power to the entire city of New Orleans. (Associated Press)


The Globe looks at the five Boston mayoral candidates’ ideas for improving the city’s public schools. 

Acting Mayor Kim Janey is facing heat after being photographed in a North End restaurant without a mask — on the first day of a new indoor mask mandate she issued. (Boston Herald

In appearances on Channel 5’s “On the Record,” Boston mayoral candidates Andrea Campbell and Annissa Essaibi George split on the issue of “vaccine passports,” with Campbell backing the idea and Essaibi George expressing wariness of it. (Boston Herald


A federal judge dismisses a case challenging vaccine mandates at UMass Lowell and Boston. (Associated Press)

Students will arrive in less than two weeks at a brand new, $263 million Durfee High School in Fall River. (Herald News


After the Roderick Ireland Courthouse in Springfield is evacuated over health concerns related to mold, local lawmakers reiterate calls to raze and replace the building. (MassLive)

Five state lawmakers file a bill to eliminate lifetime tenure for judges and replace it with five-year terms. (MassLive)


Dan Kennedy goes on a rant about “the perceived need by liberal-oriented news organizations to bend over backwards to show that they’re fair — even to people who don’t deserve it, like Marjorie Taylor Greene and Scott Walker.” (Media Nation)


Ed Asner, acclaimed actor and liberal activist, died at age 91. (Washington Post)