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Sirhan Bishara Sirhan Trial: 1969 - A Murder Plan, Cynical Performance, Suggestions For Further Reading

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Defendant: Sirhan Bishara Sirhan
Crime Charged: Murder
Chief Defense Lawyers: Grant Cooper, Russell Parsons, Emile Berman, and Michael A. McCowan
Chief Prosecutors: Lynn D. Compton, John Howard, and David Fitts
Judge: Herbert V. Walker
Place: Los Angeles, California
Dates of Trial: January
1 3—
April 23, 1969
Verdict: Guilty
Sentence: Death, later commuted to life imprisonment

SIGNIFICANCE: The stature and prominence of Robert Kennedy guaranteed that the trial of his killer, Sirhan Bishara Sirhan, would be of historic importance. And yet, had it been left to the prosecution and defense attorneys, there would have been no trial at all. Their negotiated plea bargain failed because a judge decided that full disclosure mattered more than legal expediency.

Flushed with triumph, Senator Robert Kennedy stepped down from the podium at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles on June 5, 1968, having just claimed victory in the California primary election. He was seemingly destined for the White House in November. As he moved through the crowded hotel kitchen, on his way to meet reporters in another room, a young man emerged from the throng and began firing an eight-shot Iver-Johnson. 22-caliber pistol. Three bullets struck Kennedy, one in the head. The gunman continued shooting, injuring five bystanders, until he was subdued and taken into custody. His name was Sirhan Bishara Sirhan, a 24-year-old Jordanian incensed by Kennedy's support of Israel. The next day the senator died from his wounds.

That Sirhan murdered Robert Kennedy was beyond dispute—a roomful of witnesses saw him do it—but many doubted that the diminutive Arab would ever stand trial. District Attorney Evelle Younger, armed with a psychiatric evaluation of Sirhan that provided clear indications of mental disorder, readily accepted the defense plea of guilty to first-degree murder in return for a promise of life imprisonment. It was the kind of deal worked out daily in the county court system, vital if the system is to avoid legal gridlock. But this was not an everyday case.

Dominating all else was the specter of President John F. Kennedy's assassination in 1963. The alleged killer, Lee Harvey Oswald, had himself been gunned down before standing trial, leaving forever a labyrinth of doubt and suspicion. Determined to avoid such a recurrence, the judge appointed to try the Sirhan case, Herbert Walker, rejected the plea bargain in favor of trial by jury. This ruling left the defense with no alternative but to plead Sirhan not guilty and hope that they could prove his mental insufficiency.

South Carolina v. Katzenbach - Significance, Congress Passes The Voting Rights Act, South Carolina Challenges Voting Rights Act, Related Cases [next] [back] Sherbert v. Verner - Legal Context, High Court Reverses, Dissenting Opinion, Sherbert Test

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about 6 years ago

he must be released from prison it's enough for him 43 years of prison he is human and need to live normally with people

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over 5 years ago

I wish your article were so simple - but not so. first you incorrectly list Michael A. McCowan along with the Sirhan attorneys. He was Russell Parson's investigator. Then, there is no mention of the fact that virtually all of the ballistics evidence was stipulated to due to the fact that there was no foundation (for the ballistics evidence). In Sirhan Trial Transcript p. 3967 there is a record of how that occured.

In this short space it is impossible to share some of the problems I discovered with evidence in Sirhan case, e.g. two different test guns used for comparison test bullets, substituted bullets and on and on.

Rose Lynn Mangan