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Former congressman Joseph P. Kennedy II condemns parole recommendation for Sirhan B. Sirhan

Joseph P. Kennedy II says his family is still in mourning over his father's assassination. (2009 file photo)
Joseph P. Kennedy II says his family is still in mourning over his father's assassination. (2009 file photo)Bizuayehu Tesfaye

Former Massachusetts congressman Joseph P. Kennedy II issued a deeply personal statement Sunday condemning the possible parole of Sirhan B. Sirhan, the man convicted of assassinating his father, Senator Robert F. Kennedy, more than 53 years ago during his campaign for president.

“Two commissioners of the 18-member California Parole Board made a grievous error last Friday in recommending the release of the man who murdered my father. I understand that there are differing views about ending the sentence of this killer, including within my own family. But emotions and opinions do not change facts or history,” Kennedy wrote in the statement released to the Globe Sunday evening.

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“The prisoner killed my father because of his support of Israel. The man was tried, convicted and sentenced to death,” Kennedy continued. “Yet he now may walk free, no doubt to the cheers of those who share his views. Let there be no mistake, the prisoner’s release will be celebrated by those who believe that political disagreements can be solved by a gun.”

Kennedy, the eldest son of Robert and Ethel Kennedy, is a former six-term congressman from the state’s Eighth Congressional District. He is one of the couple’s 11 children, nine of whom are living.

His comments came two days after he joined five siblings in a statement condemning the recommendation Friday by the two California parole commissioners to free the assassin who gunned down Robert F. Kennedy after midnight on June 5, 1968, in the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles when the New York senator was seeking the Democratic nomination for president. Kennedy was shot as he walked through the hotel’s pantry following a victory speech after he won the Democratic primary in California.

He died the next day.

In their statement issued Friday, the six Kennedy children vowed to challenge the parole recommendation “every step of the way.” On Saturday, Maxwell T. Kennedy, one of the six siblings who signed the statement, published an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times calling “the mere thought” of Sirhan’s release “sickening.”

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Five other people around Kennedy were shot as well but they all survived.

His death came fewer than five years after President John F. Kennedy, one of his brothers, was assassinated on Nov. 22, 1963, in Dallas.

Sirhan, 77, is serving a life sentence at a California state prison. He has previously been denied parole 15 times.

In 1972, Sirhan’s death sentence was commuted to life in prison after California abolished the death penalty.

“My mother, Ethel Kennedy, and my uncle, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, asked that his death sentence be reduced to life imprisonment as a demonstration of mercy. He received that mercy,” wrote Kennedy. “No one should have the right to alter the lesser sentence requested by the person most affected by my father’s death – his wife, whose last child would never know a father’s touch. Nothing written, said or done will ever change that reality.”

Douglas Kennedy and Robert F. Kennedy Jr., two of the late senators’ children, supported the decision for Sirhan’s release.

“I’m overwhelmed just by being able to view Mr. Sirhan face to face,” Douglas Kennedy said during Friday’s virtual parole panel meeting, according to the Associated Press. “I’ve lived my life both in fear of him and his name in one way or another. And I am grateful today to see him as a human being worthy of compassion and love.”

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Robert F. Kennedy Jr. also attended the virtual hearing but did not speak. He submitted a letter supporting Sirhan’s parole.

A spokesman for Joseph P. Kennedy II said Ethel Kennedy does not comment on her husband’s death. Former congressman Joseph P. Kennedy III declined to comment Sunday evening on the parole recommendation.

The decision by the parole board panel is subject to a 120-day review by the board’s legal staff, during which the case may be referred to the full board for further evaluation before a final judgment is rendered.

Joseph Kennedy II does not name any of his siblings in his statement. He makes a direct appeal to the full parole board, and if necessary California Governor Gavin Newsom, to reverse the decision.

“I hope the full parole board will reverse the decision over the ongoing review period and that the California governor, if faced with the choice to release him, will keep him in prison to serve out his full life sentence.

“The murderer of anyone who runs for or holds public office because of his political stance must know that he will at a minimum spend life in prison without parole,” Kennedy said.

Kennedy stressed that he and his family are still in mourning over the loss of his 42-year-old father.

“We miss him every moment of every day, and struggle to understand why the prisoner should be able to enjoy the golden years of his life when he so viciously stole them from our father. There is no justice in that,” Kennedy said in the statement.

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Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated the number of children in the Kennedy family. The Globe regrets the error. Material from Globe wires services and the New York Times used in this article.



Kathy McCabe can be reached at Katherine.McCabe@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @GlobeKMcCabe.