By Jana J. Monji
Pasadena Weekly Contributing Writer
Criminal law attorney Angela Berry was 3 when Pasadena resident Sirhan Sirhan shot Robert F. Kennedy at the Ambassador Hotel on June 5, 1968.
Despite her age, Berry recognizes that the presidential candidate’s death was “such a loss to our country.”
So, when Sirhan’s only surviving sibling, brother Munir, called Berry in June 2020 about the felon’s impending parole, she accepted the case pro bono. After all, before his death, Kennedy as well as Paul Schrade, who was also shot, supported parole. Munir arranged for the purchase of the gun that killed Kennedy.
“While I am relatively young, I am winding down my career and planning on moving to a much calmer place in the world,” she said.
Sirhan was convicted of murder and is serving a life sentence at the Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility in San Diego County. On Aug. 27, the California parole board recommended parole.
Two of Kennedy’s sons, Robert Jr. and Douglas, supported it, but former Rep. Joe Kennedy II said it was a “grievous error.” Courtney, Kerry, Christopher G., Maxwell T. and Rory Kennedy supported Joe II.
“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,” he added.
Berry said she wanted to express her deep sorrow over their loss.
“Parole is the norm; denial is the exception,” she added.
On Aug. 27, in his 16th appearance before the parole board and after 53 years in prison, Sirhan was recommended for parole. The decision, however, is subject to a 90-day review by the California Board of Parole Hearings. After that, Gov. Gavin Newsom has 30 days to grant, reverse or modify the decision.
If Sirhan is granted parole, he will likely be released first to a halfway house to help him transition to a world that has changed considerably since 1968. His stated intention is to join Munir and live the rest of his life in Pasadena.
At 77, Sirhan has outlived Robert F. Kennedy’s sons, David and Michael. Even the Ambassador Hotel, where Sirhan shot Kennedy, is gone. Donald Trump bought the hotel in 1991, but eventually it was reborn as the campus for the Central Los Angeles New Learning Center and a complex for the six Robert F. Kennedy Community Schools.
Born in Jerusalem to an Arab Palestinian Christian family in 1944, Sirhan came to the United States with his family at age 12. His father, who has been described as abusive, returned to Jordan soon after, deserting the family. In 1963, his family bought a house in Pasadena. Sirhan attended Eliot Junior High, John Muir High School and Pasadena City College, but he retained his Jordanian citizenship.
His eldest brother died before his family came to the United States. His father died in 1987, with his mother following in 2005.