Thursday, March 20, 2003
California Supreme Court Again Denies Freedom to Sirhan Sirhan
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer/Appellate Courts
Sirhan Sirhan’s latest bid for freedom was denied yesterday by the California Supreme Court.
The justices unanimously denied the habeas corpus petition brought by the convicted killer of Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, D-N.Y. Kennedy, who had just claimed victory in the June 1968 California Democratic presidential primary, was shot and killed at the now-closed Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles.
Sirhan has been represented since 1994 by mid-Wilshire attorney Lawrence Teeter, who also has a petition pending before Judge Christina Snyder in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California.
Teeter claims that although Sirhan was in the area and holding a gun, he did not shoot Kennedy, but was the “fall guy” in an elaborate conspiracy. “Somebody was following Sirhan around and setting him up and I can prove that,” Teeter told the MetNews.
The purpose of the conspiracy, Teeter said, was to prevent Kennedy, a supporter of minority rights and an opponent of the Vietnam War, from winning the presidency. The conspirators have never been identified, he said, because of a “massive coverup” —to conceal the forces behind the assassination.”
Kennedy’s death, “made possible the election of Richard Nixon,” Teeter opined. “The military-industrial complex in this country was not going to allow the civil rights movement and the peace movement to...choose the next president,” he said.
He cannot identify any of the other conspirators, he acknowledged, but suggested that police may have been involved.
Kennedy was walking through the Ambassador’s kitchen when he was shot. Sirhan was immediately grabbed, holding a .22 revolver, and taken into custody.
Evidence taken from his residence included a diary in which Sirhan, a Palestinian, wrote that Kennedy “must die” because the senator was a supporter of Israel.
Sirhan was convicted by a jury and sentenced to death by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Herbert V. Walker. While his appeal was pending, the California Supreme Court struck down the state’s death penalty law, so the sentence was reduced to life imprisonment, but the conviction was upheld.
Sirhan’s defense at trial was diminished capacity, based in part on alcohol consumption. He said he could not remember the shooting, although he must have done it.
At one point, he attempted to plead guilty against the advice of counsel. Outside the jury’s presence, he told Walker that he “killed Robert Kennedy willfully, premeditatively [sic] with 20 years of malice aforethought.” While being cross-examined later in the trial—Walker would not allow him to plead guilty—he admitted having made that statement but said he did so only because he was angry over a conflict with his lawyers.
Sirhan was under the influence of hypnosis at the time Teeter said, which may explain his inability to recall the shooting. His “20 years of malice” comment, Teeter said, was nothing more than a sarcastic response to the strain he was under.
Teeter also denied that Sirhan was anti-Jewish, or that he was aware at the time of the shooting of Kennedy’s support for military aid to Israel, which the prosecution cited as a motive for the murder. The diary entry, Teeter insisted, was written under the effects of hypnosis.
Teeter has attempted to gain permission for a New York psychiatrist and hypnosis authority, Dr. Herbert Spiegel, to hypnotize Sirhan in an attempt to revive his memories of the shooting, something both prosecution and defense experts were unable to do before the trial, the attorney said.
While the assassination of the senator’s brother, President John F. Kennedy, has long been grist for the conspiracy theorists’ mill, the official version of Robert Kennedy’s assassination was not publicly disparaged until the 1980s.
A New York author, Robert Morrow, wrote the book The Senator Must Die in 1988. Morrow said the killing was the work of the Iranian Secret Police in conjunction with the Mafia, and that the actual shooter was not Sirhan but a man named Ali Ahmand.
The book contained four photographs of a man whom Morrow identified as Ahmand standing near Kennedy as he spoke on the night of the assassination. The man, however, later identified himself as Khalid Khawar, a free-lance photojournalist covering the presidential campaign for a Pakistani newspaper.
Khawar sued Morrow, along with The Globe tabloid, which ran a story based on the book, and was awarded $1,175,000—including $500,000 in punitive damages for libel. Khawar swore he never entered the kitchen area and had no connection to the shooting.
Teeter said he has never read Morrow’s book.
Copyright 2003, Metropolitan News Company