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Sirhan Bishara SIRHAN





Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Palestinian Christian - Motive unknown - "Hyno-programmed"?
Number of victims: 1
Date of murder: June 5, 1968
Date of arrest: Same day
Date of birth: March 19, 1944
Victim profile: United States Senator Robert F. “Bobby” Kennedy, 42
Method of murder: Shooting (.22 caliber Iver Johnson revolver)
Location: Los Angeles, California, USA
Status: Sentenced to death on April 23, 1969. Commuted to life in prison in 1972

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Report on the Medicolegal Investigation of Senator Robert F. Kennedy


Sirhan Bishara Sirhan (born March 19, 1944) is the convicted assassin of United States Senator Robert F. “Bobby” Kennedy. He is currently serving a life sentence at the state penitentiary in Corcoran, California.

Personal information

Sirhan was born to Palestinian Christian parents in Jerusalem and was raised a Maronite Catholic. However, in his adult years he frequently changed his religious thoughts, to Baptist, Seventh-day Adventist, and Rosicrucianism.

Robert F. Kennedy assassination

On June 5, 1968, Sirhan fired a .22 caliber Iver Johnson revolver into the crowd surrounding Senator Kennedy in the kitchen pantry of the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles.

This occurred shortly after Kennedy had finished addressing supporters in the hotel's main ballroom. George Plimpton, Rosey Grier (an NFL defensive lineman and Kennedy's close friend/bodyguard), and Olympic gold medalist Rafer Johnson subdued Sirhan, with Grier jamming his thumb behind the hammer of the gun to prevent further shots from being fired.

Kennedy was shot three times, with a fourth bullet passing through his jacket, and died 26 hours later. Five other persons in the pantry also were shot, but all five recovered: Paul Schrade, head of the United Automobile Workers union; William Weisel, an ABC TV unit manager; Ira Goldstein, a Continental News Service reporter; Elizabeth Evans, a friend of Kennedy's press secretary Pierre Salinger; and Irwin Stroll, a teenaged Kennedy volunteer.

On February 10, 1969, a motion by Sirhan's lawyers to enter a plea of guilty to first degree murder in exchange for life imprisonment (rather than the death penalty) was made in chambers and denied. The court judge Herbert V. Walker ordered that the record pertaining to the motion be sealed.

On March 3, 1969, in a Los Angeles courtroom, Sirhan claimed that he had killed Kennedy "with 20 years of malice aforethought," although he has maintained since being arrested that he has no memory of the crime. The judge did not accept this confession and it was later withdrawn.


Sirhan supposedly believed he was deliberately betrayed by Kennedy's support for Israel in the June, 1967 Six-Day War, which had begun exactly one year before the assassination. However, the "RFK must die" diary entries started before Kennedy's support of Israel became public knowledge.

After his arrest, these journals and diaries were discovered. Most of the entries were incoherent and repetitive, though a single entry obsessed over a desire to kill Kennedy. When confronted with this entry, Sirhan couldn't deny writing them, but rather expressed bafflement. In the 1990s, Sirhan proposed the theory that he had been brainwashed.


The lead prosecutor in the case was Lynn "Buck" Compton. Attempts by Sirhan's lawyer, Grant Cooper, to remove his case to Fresno where he claimed he could be given a fair trial, failed. During the three-month-long trial, the defense primarily based their case on the expert testimony of Bernard L. Diamond M.D., a well known professor of law and psychiatry at University of California, Berkeley, who testified that Sirhan was suffering from diminished capacity at the time of the murder.

Sirhan was convicted on April 17, 1969 and was sentenced to death six days later. The sentence was commuted to life in prison in 1972 after the California Supreme Court, in its decision in California v. Anderson 64 Cal.2d 633, 414 P.2d 366, (Cal. 1972), resulted in the invalidation of all pending death sentences imposed in California prior to 1972.

Sirhan's most recent lawyer, Lawrence Teeter, adamantly maintained that Grant Cooper was compromised by a conflict of interest and was, as a consequence, grossly negligent in defense of his client. This, according to Teeter, led to a gross miscarriage of justice.

Conflicting Evidence

As with the assassination of his brother John F. Kennedy, there are still questions about the validity of the official story that casts Sirhan in the role of "lone gunman".

All the witnesses in the kitchen pantry that day placed Sirhan in front of Senator Kennedy, at a distance no closer than approximately 3 feet and, more significantly, most of them placed the tip of his gun no closer than a foot to Kennedy's head. Yet according to Dr. Thomas Noguchi, who performed the autopsy, the fatal shot - the one to the head - was fired one inch behind the Senator's right ear.

According to Noguchi's book "Coroner", published in 1983, he was first made aware of this possibility when an Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) criminologist came to his office the day after the autopsy saying they had found gunpowder residue and soot in the hair shavings taken from Kennedy's head prior to surgery. Thus, the gun must have been only inches away. The angle was also wrong.

Photographic evidence exists of at least five additional shots. In Philip H. Melanson's "The Robert F. Kennedy Assassination" are two photos. One shows Dr. Noguchi pointing out two "bullet holes" (as identified by the FBI) in a doorframe. The other photo shows LAPD criminologist DeWayne Wolfer pointing to a ricochet mark.

Another photo, in Dan E. Moldea's "The Killing of Robert F. Kennedy", shows Noguchi pointing to two different bullet holes from those featured in the Melanson book's photo. In Noguchi's own book "Coroner", published in 1983, he believes twelve shots were fired that night: three bullets hit Kennedy, one passed through his jacket, five hit the other victims, and three were found in the ceiling. Unfortunately for the doorframe evidence, the LAPD destroyed all the wood paneling it had collected from the hotel pantry.

Applications for parole

Sirhan has been routinely eligible for parole, but as of 2007 parole had been denied 13 times. Currently he is confined at the California State Prison in Corcoran. Sirhan's attorney Lawrence Teeter died on July 31, 2005, in Mexico. Sirhan was again refused parole on March 15, 2006. He did not attend the hearing, nor did he appoint a new attorney to represent him. His next possible chance for parole will be in 2011.

On May 10, 1982, Sirhan Sirhan told a parole board: "If Robert Kennedy were alive today, he would not countenance singling me out for this kind of treatment."


  • Moldea, Dan E.: The Killing of Robert F. Kennedy. W. W. Norton & Company, 1997, ISBN 978-0393315349

  • Turner, William V., and Jonn Christian. The Assassination of Robert F. Kennedy: The Conspiracy and Cover-up. Carroll & Graf, 2006, ISBN 978-0786719792


Further reading

  • Jansen, Godfrey. Why Robert Kennedy Was Killed: The Story of Two Victims. New York: Third Press, 1970.

  • Kaiser, Robert Blair. "R.F.K. Must Die!": A History of the Robert Kennedy Assassination and Its Aftermath. New York: E.P. Dutton & Co, Inc. 1970.

  • Melanson, Philip H. Who Killed Robert Kennedy? Berkeley, California: Odonian, 1993.

  • Turner, William V., and John G. Christian. The Assassination of Robert F. Kennedy: A Searching Look at the Conspiracy and Cover-up 1968-1978. New York: Random House, 1978.


Assassination of Robert F. Kennedy

United States Senator Robert F. Kennedy was fatally wounded by a gunshot in Los Angeles at approximately 12:15 a.m. on June 5, 1968, and died 26 hours later.

The convicted assassin, 24-year-old Palestinian Sirhan Sirhan, is widely thought to have been acting alone. Sirhan attributed the killing to Kennedy's support for Israel during and after the Six-Day War, although there is no record of RFK supporting Israel during that period.

On March 3, 1969, in a Los Angeles court, Sirhan admitted that he had killed Kennedy. Sirhan has since recanted, and as late as 1998 has sought a new trial. Various critics have claimed the official account of Robert Kennedy's death is inconsistent and incomplete.


As United States Senator for New York, Kennedy had focused on issues of social reform and increasingly came to identify with the poor and disenfranchised. He reached out to members of minority groups and formed relationships with many of them. The evening he was shot, Kennedy had won the June 4, 1968 Democratic Presidential primaries in South Dakota and California, boosting his chances for the Democratic nomination for President during the 1968 presidential election.


Kennedy addressed his supporters shortly after midnight on June 5, 1968, in a ballroom at the Ambassador Hotel in downtown Los Angeles. At about 12:15 a.m., he and his entourage walked through a kitchen pantry, shaking hands with well-wishers and hotel staff. The small pantry was rather crowded, when a 24-year-old man named Sirhan Sirhan stepped in front of Kennedy, and allegedly shouted "Kennedy, you son of a bitch!" before firing an eight shot, .22 caliber Iver-Johnson Cadet revolver toward Kennedy and his entourage.

Maître d'hôtel Karl Uecker, writer George Plimpton, Olympic gold medalist decathlete Rafer Johnson and professional football player Rosey Grier helped detain Sirhan, with Grier jamming his thumb behind the trigger of the revolver to prevent further shots from being fired, as he had no way of knowing in the confusion if all the shots had been fired.

As it happened on television

The shooting was not broadcast live, but the resultant scuffle was recorded on audio tape by reporter Andrew West of KRKD, a Mutual radio affiliate. On the stage just after the speech, West had asked Kennedy a brief question about how he would go about overcoming Vice President Hubert Humphrey's lead in delegates to the Democratic National Convention (in a garbled response, Kennedy indicated a "struggle" lay ahead for the nomination). As West followed the Kennedy party into the kitchen area, he turned his tape recorder back on after hearing shouts that Kennedy had been shot.

CBS Television continued feeding live pictures of the Ambassador Hotel's Embassy Room ballroom in the moments after Kennedy had left the ballroom's podium. For the next two minutes, CBS cameras panned the dispersing crowd of RFK supporters in the Embassy Room ballroom as well as another crowd of RFK supporters downstairs in the hotel's Ambassador Room ballroom.

As microphones picked up the sound of supporters in the Ambassador Room chanting "rah rah rah", a CBS camera showed supporters in the Embassy Room reacting to the shooting that had just taken place, off-camera, in the kitchen pantry.

As CBS's audio feed then switched from the Ambassador Room to the Embassy Room, the ballroom's northside service doors leading to the pantry could be seen swinging open while the sounds of screaming and chaos could be heard. The joyous crowd was now overcome with confusion and panic.

CBS News correspondent Terry Drinkwater, standing at the podium where RFK had just spoken, asked someone what happened. An unidentified man answered: "Somebody said he's been shot". Drinkwater then advised his CBS colleagues to "make sure we are rolling videotape".

From the podium, RFK supporters called out for doctors and Kennedy's brother-in-law Steven Smith (with wife Jean Kennedy Smith at his side) calmly asked the crowd to leave the room. The first people Drinkwater approached were unable to provide any information; eventually, he and other newsmen were given some details from other individuals who had been witnesses to either the shooting or its aftermath.

Kennedy was shot twice in his back and once behind his right ear at very close range. A fourth shot grazed Kennedy's clothing. As Kennedy lay on the floor, bleeding heavily, West asked if anyone else was hurt. Five other people were wounded: William Weisel of ABC News (30), Paul Schrade of the United Auto Workers (43), Democratic Party activist Elizabeth Evans (43), 19-year-old radio reporter Ira Goldstein and 17-year-old Kennedy volunteer Irwin Stroll.

Although not physically wounded, singer Rosemary Clooney, a great supporter of Kennedy's, was present at the shooting and suffered a nervous breakdown shortly afterwards. Kennedy was pronounced dead the next day.

Disputes and contentions

There seems to be no dispute that Sirhan did fire his revolver. What is disputed is whether Sirhan planned and acted alone, whether there was another gunman at the scene, and whether Sirhan fired bullets or blanks. As with his brother John's assassination in 1963, RFK's death has been analyzed by many who have developed various alternative scenarios for the crime, or who argue there are serious problems with the official case. One theory is that the same people who orchestrated the JFK assassination were behind his brother's.

Kennedy's wounds

Sirhan's gun was placed by all witnesses at between 2 and 5 feet from the Senator when he fired his revolver. All witnesses seemed to agree Sirhan was facing Kennedy when he fired.

In conducting the autopsy on Kennedy, Los Angeles coroner Dr. Thomas Noguchi found powder burns on Kennedy's ear and gunpowder residue in his hair. Noguchi said this indicated that Kennedy was shot from a distance of, at most, 1.5 inches (37 millimeters.) (When a firearm is discharged, the powder residue travels only a few inches because the material is very light.)

Noguchi's conclusions led to speculation that Sirhan was too far from Kennedy and in the wrong position to have administered the fatal shot (also fired from a .22 caliber handgun, one which had apparently been fired into Kennedy's head at point-blank range from behind his right ear) and that a second shooter must have been present. Dr. Noguchi himself wrote years later that "Until more is precisely known…the existence of a second gunman remains a possibility. Thus, I have never said that Sirhan Sirhan killed Robert Kennedy."

Independent testing (shown in a program on the Discovery Channel) indicates that gunpowder residue can easily travel over 15 inches (38 cm), but that the stippling effect observed requires that the gun must have been less than 2 inches (5 cm) away.

Allegations of suppression or coverup

James Scott Enyart has said that he was actively photographing the inside of the Ambassador Hotel kitchen pantry at the moment of the shooting. Furthermore he contends that his three, 36-exposure rolls were confiscated by the LAPD and sealed by court-order for 20 years, and never returned in full which resulted in a lengthy court battle, from 1989 to 1996.

The most important piece of photographic evidence, allegedly featuring the scenes of the Senator falling and bulletholes in the door frame and ceiling, were confined in 10 pictures found to be missing from the third negative. The Enyart trial was, from the start, surrounded by a series of blunders, including tampering with evidence in the archives, in addition to the disappearance of a large amount of related court files, and ultimately the missing negative and stolen first generations prints.

Enyart eventually won the trial against the city of Los Angeles and the LAPD and was consequently granted a financial settlement of $450,000. Among Enyart's principal witnesses were researchers such as Lynn Mangan and Ted Charach.

Sandy Serrano said that during questioning, she was intimidated by police and forced to change her story.

Police reportedly destroyed or concealed considerable amounts of evidence from the crime scene, including photographs, ceiling panels, and door frames.

Charges have been made that authorities withheld potentially exculpatory evidence from Sirhan's lawyer by keeping Noguchi's autopsy report sealed until after the trial had begun.

Additional bullet holes or gunshots

Sirhan's .22 revolver held eight cartridges. The official conclusion is that Sirhan fired all his cartridges, and all eight projectiles were recovered. Others have suggested there were more than eight shots fired. A police officer observed police criminalists dig two bullets out of a door frame in the pantry area, bringing the total number of shots that were fired during the attack to 10.

FBI documents describe holes depicted in the pantry door frame as "bullet holes", and William Bailey, the first FBI agent on the scene, has stated that he saw a bullet in one such hole. An AP photograph shows a bullet lodged in a door frame.

In addition, most of the witnesses in the pantry thought the gun looked and sounded like it was firing blanks. Rafer Johnson said it looked like a cap gun throwing off residue.

Conspiracy theories

Many claims of a "second shooter" point to a part-time armed security guard escorting Kennedy, a 26-year-old Lockheed aerospace worker named Thane Eugene Cesar who had been called to work at the Ambassador at the last minute by his employer, Ace Guard Services. According to witnesses, Cesar had been standing closest to Kennedy on the Senator's right and slightly to the rear when Sirhan had begun firing.

Apparently, Kennedy suddenly grabbed Cesar's clip-on necktie with his right hand when hit as that tie was less than a foot away from the Senator's right hand while he was lying fatally wounded on the hotel's kitchen floor. Interviewed by Los Angeles police detectives shortly after the assassination, Cesar admitted on tape that he had removed his revolver from his holster during the shooting in the pantry but insisted he never fired it.

Cesar also admitted to investigator Theodore Charach that he had owned a .22-caliber revolver similar to Sirhan's, but claimed he had sold the weapon in February 1968, a claim eventually proven to have been false, as it was later discovered that Cesar had instead sold the gun three months after the assassination. The buyer of that revolver later reported it stolen. The revolver that Cesar turned over to the LAPD was not test-fired by the police, because it was .38 caliber and all the slugs recovered were .22 caliber.

But skeptics, such as Dan Moldea, author of The Killing of Robert F. Kennedy, have said that Cesar was never considered a serious suspect for good reason: No eyewitnesses saw Cesar shoot Kennedy. Moldea tracked Cesar down and gave him a polygraph test which Moldea said exonerated Cesar.

Additional conspirators?

Los Angeles police sergeant Paul Sharaga and a young Kennedy campaign worker named Sandy Serrano both claimed a young Hispanic man and a young Caucasian woman with blonde hair (the latter wearing a "polka dot" dress) quickly burst out of a rear service exit of the Ambassador Hotel's kitchen moments after the shooting exclaiming, "We shot him." When asked "who?", the young woman responded, "Senator Kennedy!"

Sgt. Sharaga was made aware of the suspicious duo by a middle-aged married couple who had frantically flagged him down shortly after he had pulled his squad car into one of the hotel's parking lots. Sharaga immediately issued an all points bulletin for the young couple, one soon canceled without explanation by his superiors. Serrano was later coerced by police into changing her story.

A San Diego high school student, Lisa Urso, who was also present in the hotel kitchen pantry when Kennedy was shot, claims she saw a blonde young man in a gray business suit place a revolver in a holster under his jacket when Sirhan began shooting and that she also saw a dark haired man in a black business suit fire a handgun into the ceiling and then run away from the scene.

CIA operatives

On November 20, 2006, BBC's Newsnight presented research by Shane O'Sullivan alleging that several CIA agents were present on the night of the assassination. The CIA had no domestic jurisdiction and some of the officers were based in Southeast Asia at the time, with no apparent reason to be in Los Angeles.

Three of those accused were former senior officers who had worked together in 1963 at JMWAVE, the CIA's main anti-Castro station based in Miami. JMWAVE Chief of Operations David Morales, Chief of Maritime Operations Gordon Campbell and Chief of Psychological Warfare Operations George Joannides were identified by former acquaintances in photographs taken at the Ambassador Hotel, Los Angeles on June 5th, 1968.

Amongst those acquaintances was Congressional investigator Ed Lopez, who worked with Joannides while the latter was serving as CIA liaison to the Congressional investigation into the assassination of John F. Kennedy.

According to O'Sullivan, Morales was known for his deep anger with the Kennedys for what he saw as their betrayal during the Bay of Pigs incident. O'Sullivan quoted Morales as having said, "I was in Dallas when we got the son of a bitch and I was in Los Angeles when we got the little bastard."

O'Sullivan reported that the CIA denied that the officers in question were present and declined to comment further. O’Sullivan interviewed David Rabern, a freelance mercenary and private investigator who had been contracted by the CIA to participate in the Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961.

Rabern had been in the ballroom of the Ambassador Hotel on the fateful night in 1968. While Rabern did not know Morales and Campbell by name, he had noticed them talking to each other in the hotel lobby prior to the assassination. He also noticed Campbell in and around several police stations on U.S. soil that the CIA had no jurisdiction over.

Sirhan's motivations

According to author Loren Coleman in 'The Copycat Effect (New York: Paraview Pocket-Simon and Schuster, 2004, ISBN 0-7434-8223-9), the date of the assassination is significant, as it was the first anniversary of the first day of the Six Day War between Israel and its Arab neighbors that began on June 5, 1967.

Sirhan Sirhan's shooting of Robert F. Kennedy, Coleman writes, has been characterized as one of the first acts of Palestine or Arab terrorism to take place on American soil, with 9/11 being the most recent example. Coleman suggests Sirhan saw himself as a Palestinian militant. However, it is also noteworthy to add that Sirhan is a Christian, not a Muslim.

In a diary police found at Sirhan's home, he reportedly wrote: "My determination to eliminate RFK is becoming more and more [sic] of an unshakable obsession. RFK must die. RFK must be killed. Robert F. Kennedy must be assassinated. .... Robert F. Kennedy must be assassinated before 5 June 1968." Many documents, though, among them the remarkable movie by Ted Charach, show that the expert graphologist cited to the court proved that this diary was a forgery, with many inconsistencies. The handwriting on these pages, for example, differ greatly from Sirhan's handwriting.


Sirhan claimed he acted unconsciously, and that he has no memory of the shooting. This has led to speculations that he was acting under the influence of "hypnotic brainwashing" which many attribute to the CIA's MK-Ultra program (similar to the plot of The Manchurian Candidate).

The late author George Plimpton, one of the four men who had initially subdued Sirhan, commented that Sirhan had maintained what Plimpton judged to be an unusually calm, peaceful, or dreamlike expression on his face amid all of the terror and confusion.

References in popular culture

The Rolling Stones were recording Beggars Banquet when Robert Kennedy was shot. A lyric in "Sympathy for the Devil" was subsequently changed from "I shouted out, 'Who killed John Kennedy?'" to "I shouted out, 'Who killed the Kennedys?'"

In Alan J. Pakula's film The Parallax View (1974) a US Presidential hopeful is assassinated by a livried bellhop on the observation deck of the Seattle Space Needle amid a crowd of wellwishers. A girl in a polka-dot dress is briefly glimpsed in the confusion.

The novels in The Illuminatus! Trilogy (1975) have a number of references to the RFK assassination, including the underground newspaper Confrontation reopening the investigation and a character who had written a manuscript titled How the Ancient Bavarian Conspiracy Plotted and Carried Out the Assassinations of Malcolm X, John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Jr., George Lincoln Rockwell, Robert Kennedy, Richard Nixon, George Wallace, Jane Fonda, Gabriel Conrad and Hank Brummer.

The plot of the first season of the TV series 24, starting November 6, 2001, concerns an assassination attempt on a Democratic presidental candidate on the day of a Californian presidential primary.

The feature film Bobby was released by MGM on November 17, 2006. The film portrays a fictional account of the Ambassador Hotel on the day RFK was killed. This Emilio Estevez production recreates the ambience and themes of 1968, and laments the lost hopes when RFK was killed, but does not offer any historical interpretation or analysis.

The movie depicts Sirhan shooting five fictional characters in addition to Kennedy (with no treatment of whether Sirhan acted alone) and does not depict the five people who were actually wounded, nor any other key people who were present (Plimpton, West, Grier, Johnson, Enyart, Cesar, Morales, Sharaga, Serrano, etc.).



Assassination of Robert F. Kennedy

The assassination of Robert F. Kennedy, a United States Senator and brother of assassinated President John F. Kennedy, took place shortly after midnight on June 5, 1968, in Los Angeles, California. After winning the California primary election for the Democratic nomination for President of the United States, Kennedy was shot as he walked through the kitchen of the Ambassador Hotel and died in the Good Samaritan Hospital twenty-six hours later. Sirhan Sirhan, a 24-year-old Palestinian immigrant, was convicted of Kennedy's murder and is serving a life sentence for the crime. The shooting was recorded on audio tape by a freelance newspaper reporter, and the aftermath was captured on film.

Kennedy's body lay in repose at St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York for two days before a funeral mass was held on June 8. His body was interred near his brother John at Arlington National Cemetery. His death prompted the protection of presidential candidates by the United States Secret Service. Hubert Humphrey went on to win the Democratic nomination for the presidency, but ultimately narrowly lost the election to Richard Nixon.

As with his brother's death, Robert Kennedy's assassination and the circumstances surrounding it have spawned a variety of conspiracy theories. As of 2011 Kennedy remains one of only two sitting United States Senators to be assassinated.


Kennedy was United States Attorney General from January 1961 until September 3, 1964, when he resigned to run for election to the United States Senate. He took office as Senator from New York on January 3, 1965. The approach of the 1968 presidential election saw the incumbent president, Lyndon B. Johnson, serving during a period of social unrest. There were riots in the major cities despite Johnson's attempts to introduce anti-poverty and anti-discrimination legislation, and there was significant opposition to the ongoing military action in Vietnam. The assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. in April 1968 led to further riots in 100 cities. Kennedy entered the race for the Democratic Party's nomination for president on March 16, 1968—four days after Senator Eugene McCarthy received a large percentage of the vote in the New Hampshire primary against the incumbent President (42% to Johnson's 49%). Two weeks later, a demoralized Johnson announced he was no longer seeking re-election. One month later, Vice President Hubert Humphrey announced he would seek the presidency. Humphrey did not participate in any primaries but he did obtain the support of many Democratic Party delegates. Following the California primary, Kennedy was in second place with 393 delegates compared to Humphrey's 561.


Four hours after the polls closed in California, Kennedy claimed victory in the state's Democratic presidential primary. At approximately 12:10 a.m. PDT, he addressed his campaign supporters in the Ambassador Hotel's Embassy Room ballroom, in the Mid-Wilshire district of Los Angeles. At the time, the government provided Secret Service protection for incumbent presidents but not for presidential candidates. Kennedy's only security was provided by former FBI agent William Barry and two unofficial bodyguards, former professional athletes. During the campaign, Kennedy had welcomed contact with the public, and people had often tried to touch him in their excitement.

Kennedy had planned to walk through the ballroom and then, when he had finished speaking, on his way to another gathering of supporters elsewhere in the hotel. However, with deadlines fast approaching, reporters wanted a press conference. Campaign aide Fred Dutton decided that Kennedy would forgo the second gathering and instead go through the kitchen and pantry area behind the ballroom to the press area. Kennedy finished speaking and started to exit when William Barry stopped him and said, "No, it's been changed. We're going this way." Barry and Dutton began clearing a way for Kennedy to go left through swinging doors to the kitchen corridor, but Kennedy, hemmed in by the crowd, followed hotel maître d' Karl Uecker through a back exit.

Uecker led Kennedy through the kitchen area, holding Kennedy's right wrist but frequently releasing it as Kennedy shook hands with those he encountered. Uecker and Kennedy started down a passageway narrowed by an ice machine against the right wall and a steam table to the left. Kennedy turned to his left and shook hands with busboy Juan Romero as Sirhan Bishara Sirhan stepped down from a low tray-stacker beside the ice machine, rushed past Uecker, and repeatedly fired what was later identified as a .22 caliber Iver-Johnson Cadet revolver.

After Kennedy had fallen to the floor, security man Bill Barry hit Sirhan twice in the face while others, including maîtres d' Uecker and Edward Minasian, writer George Plimpton, Olympic gold medal decathlete Rafer Johnson and professional football player Rosey Grier, forced Sirhan against the steam table and disarmed him. Sirhan wrestled free and grabbed the revolver again, but he had already fired all the bullets. Barry went to Kennedy and laid his jacket under the candidate's head, later recalling: "I knew immediately it was a .22, a small caliber, so I hoped it wouldn't be so bad, but then I saw the hole in the Senator's head, and I knew". Reporters and photographers rushed into the area from both directions, contributing to the chaos. As Kennedy lay wounded, Juan Romero cradled the senator's head and placed a rosary in his hand. Kennedy asked Romero, "Is everybody safe, OK?" and Romero responded, "Yes, yes, everything is going to be OK". Captured by Life photographer Bill Eppridge and Boris Yaro of the Los Angeles Times, this moment became the iconic image of the assassination.

Ethel Kennedy stood outside the crush of people at the scene, seeking help. She was soon led to her husband and knelt beside him. He turned his head and seemed to recognize her. After several minutes, medical attendants arrived and lifted Kennedy onto a stretcher, prompting him to whisper, "Don't lift me". He lost consciousness shortly thereafter. Kennedy was taken a mile away to Central Receiving Hospital, where he arrived near death. One doctor slapped his face, calling, "Bob, Bob", while another massaged Kennedy's heart. After obtaining a good heartbeat, doctors handed a stethoscope to Ethel Kennedy so she could hear her husband's heart beating, much to her relief. After about 30 minutes, Kennedy was transferred several blocks to the Hospital of the Good Samaritan for surgery. Surgery began at 3:12 a.m. PDT and lasted three hours and 40 minutes. Ten and a half hours later, at 5:30 p.m. PDT on Wednesday, spokesman Frank Mankiewicz announced that Kennedy's doctors were "concerned over his continuing failure to show improvement"; his condition remained "extremely critical as to life".

Kennedy had been shot three times. One bullet, fired at a range of about 1 inch (2.54 cm), entered behind his right ear, dispersing fragments throughout his brain. Two others entered at the rear of his right armpit; one exited from his chest and the other lodged in the back of his neck. Despite extensive neurosurgery at the Good Samaritan Hospital to remove the bullet and bone fragments from his brain, Kennedy died at 1:44 a.m. PDT on June 6, nearly 26 hours after the shooting. Five other people were also wounded: William Weisel of ABC News, Paul Schrade of the United Auto Workers union, Democratic Party activist Elizabeth Evans, Ira Goldstein of the Continental News Service and Kennedy campaign volunteer Irwin Stroll. Although not physically wounded, singer Rosemary Clooney, a strong Kennedy supporter, was present in the ballroom during the shooting in the pantry and suffered a nervous breakdown shortly afterward.

Sirhan Sirhan

Sirhan Sirhan was strongly anti-Zionist. A diary found during a search of Sirhan's home stated, "My determination to eliminate RFK is becoming more and more of an unshakable obsession. RFK must die. RFK must be killed. Robert F. Kennedy must be assassinated...Robert F. Kennedy must be assassinated before 5 June 68." It has been suggested that the date of the assassination is significant, because it was the first anniversary of the first day of the Six Day War between Israel and its Arab neighbors. When Sirhan was booked by police, they found in his pocket a newspaper article that discussed Kennedy's support for Israel, and at his trial, Sirhan testified that he began to hate Kennedy after learning of this support. This interpretation of his motives has, however, been criticized as an oversimplification that ignores Sirhan's deeper psychological problems.

During his trial, Sirhan's lawyers attempted to use a defense of diminished responsibility, while their client tried to confess to the crime and change his plea to guilty on several occasions. Sirhan testified that he had killed Kennedy "with 20 years of malice aforethought", although he has maintained since being convicted that he has no memory of the crime. The judge did not accept this confession and it was later withdrawn.

Sirhan was convicted on April 17, 1969, and six days later was sentenced to death. The sentence was commuted to life in prison in 1972 after the California Supreme Court, in its decision in California v. Anderson, invalidated all pending death sentences imposed in California prior to 1972. In 2011, he was denied parole for the fourteenth time and is currently confined at the Pleasant Valley State Prison in Coalinga, California.

Media coverage

As the shooting took place, ABC News was signing off from its electoral broadcast, while the CBS broadcast was already over. It was not until 21 minutes after the shots that CBS's coverage of the shooting would begin. The reporters who had been present to report on Kennedy's win in the primary ended up crowding into the kitchen where he had been shot and the immediate aftermath was captured only by audio recording and cameras that had no live transmission capability. ABC was able to show scant live footage from the kitchen after Kennedy had been transported but unlike CBS and NBC, all of ABC's coverage from the Ambassador was in black and white. CBS and NBC shot footage in the kitchen of the shooting's aftermath on color film, which could not be broadcast until it was developed two hours after the incident.

Reporter Andrew West of KRKD, a Mutual Broadcasting System radio affiliate in Los Angeles, captured on audio tape the sounds of the immediate aftermath of the shooting but not the actual shooting itself. Using a reel-to-reel tape recorder and attached microphone, West also provided an on-the-spot account of the struggle with Sirhan in the hotel kitchen pantry, shouting at Rafer Johnson to "Get the gun, Rafer, get the gun!" and telling others to "get a hold of [Sirhan's] thumb and break it, if you have to! Get his thumb! We don't want another Oswald!"

Over the following week, NBC devoted 55 hours to the shooting and aftermath, ABC 43, and CBS 42, with all three networks preempting their regular coverage and advertisements to cover the story.

Conspiracy theories

As with the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, Robert Kennedy's brother, in 1963, the senator's death has been the subject of widespread analysis. Some individuals involved in the original investigation and some researchers have suggested alternative scenarios for the crime, or have argued that there are serious problems with the official case.

CIA involvement theory

In November 2006, the BBC's Newsnight program presented research by filmmaker Shane O'Sullivan alleging that several CIA officers were present on the night of the assassination. Three men who appear in films and photographs from the night of the assassination were positively identified by former colleagues and associates as former senior CIA officers who had worked together in 1963 at JMWAVE, the CIA's main anti-Castro station based in Miami. They were JMWAVE Chief of Operations David Morales, Chief of Maritime Operations Gordon Campbell and Chief of Psychological Warfare Operations George Joannides.

The program featured an interview with Morales's former attorney Robert Walton, who quoted him as having said, "I was in Dallas when we got the son of a bitch and I was in Los Angeles when we got the little bastard". O'Sullivan reported that the CIA declined to comment on the officers in question. It was also alleged that Morales was known for his deep anger toward the Kennedys for what he saw as their betrayal during the Bay of Pigs Invasion.

After further investigation, O'Sullivan produced the feature documentary, RFK Must Die. The film casts doubt on the earlier identifications and ultimately reveals that the man previously identified as Gordon Campbell may, in fact, have been Michael D. Roman, a now-deceased Bulova Watch Company employee, who was at the Ambassador Hotel for a company convention.

Second gunman theory

The location of Kennedy's wounds suggested that his assailant had stood behind him, but some witnesses said that Sirhan faced west as Kennedy moved through the pantry facing east. This has led to the suggestion that a second gunman actually fired the fatal shot, a possibility supported by coroner Thomas Noguchi who stated that the fatal shot was behind Kennedy's right ear and had been fired at a distance of approximately one inch. Other witnesses, though, said that as Sirhan approached, Kennedy was turning to his left shaking hands, facing north and so exposing his right side. As recently as 2008, eyewitness John Pilger asserted his belief that there must have been a second gunman. During a re-examination of the case in 1975, the Los Angeles Superior Court ordered expert examination of the possibility of a second gun having been used, and the conclusion of the experts was that there was little or no evidence to support this theory.

In 2007, analysis of an audio tape recording of the shooting made by freelance reporter Stanislaw Pruszynski appeared to indicate, according to forensic expert Philip Van Praag, that thirteen shots were fired, even though Sirhan's gun held only eight rounds. Van Praag states that the recording also reveals at least two cases where the timing between shots was shorter than physically possible. The presence of more than eight shots on the tape was corroborated by forensic audio specialists Wes Dooley and Paul Pegas of Audio Engineering Associates in Pasadena, California, forensic audio and ballistics expert Eddy B. Brixen in Copenhagen, Denmark, and audio specialist Phil Spencer Whitehead of the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, Georgia. Some other acoustic experts, however, have stated that no more than eight shots were recorded on the audio tape.


Following the autopsy on June 6, Kennedy's body was returned to New York City, where he lay in repose at St. Patrick's Cathedral, viewed by thousands, until a funeral mass on the morning of June 8.

Kennedy's younger brother, Ted, eulogized him with the words:

My brother need not be idealized, or enlarged in death beyond what he was in life; to be remembered simply as a good and decent man, who saw wrong and tried to right it, saw suffering and tried to heal it, saw war and tried to stop it. Those of us who loved him and who take him to his rest today, pray that what he was to us and what he wished for others will some day come to pass for all the world. As he said many times, in many parts of this nation, to those he touched and who sought to touch him: 'Some men see things as they are and say why. I dream things that never were and say why not.'

Immediately following the mass, Kennedy's body was transported by a slow-moving train to Washington, D.C. and thousands of mourners lined the tracks and stations, paying their respects as the train passed by. Kennedy was buried near his older brother John, in Arlington National Cemetery, in the first burial ever to take place there at night; the second being the burial of his younger brother Ted.

After Kennedy's assassination, Congress altered the Secret Service's mandate to include protection for presidential candidates. The remaining candidates were immediately protected under an executive order issued by Lyndon Johnson, putting a strain on the poorly resourced Secret Service.

1968 election

At the time of his death, Kennedy was substantially behind Humphrey in convention delegate support, but many believe that Kennedy would have ultimately secured the nomination following his victory in the California primary. Only thirteen states held primaries that year, meaning that most delegates at the Democratic convention could choose a candidate based on their personal preference. Historian Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. and others have argued that Kennedy's broad appeal and charisma would have been sufficiently convincing at the 1968 Democratic National Convention to give him the nomination. Historian Michael Beschloss believed, however, that Kennedy would not have secured the nomination. Humphrey, after a National Convention in Chicago marred by violence in the streets, was far behind in opinion polls but gained ground. He ultimately lost the general election to Republican Richard Nixon by a narrow margin.



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