Sirhan lawyer tries ‘Manchurian Candidate’ defense
CORCORAN, Calif. (AP) — Sirhan Sirhan, the convicted assassin of Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, was denied parole Thursday for refusing to take responsibility for the shooting, but his lawyer raised eyebrows by suggesting Sirhan was ”hypnotically programmed” to kill Kennedy.
Sirhan, 57, refused to attend in protest of such perfunctory hearings when there’s no real chance of release, his lawyer said. He’s been denied parole 14 times since the 1968 slaying.
Last year, more than 1,800 parole hearings were held. The board approved 31 inmates and Gov. Gray Davis objected to the release of all but one. Twelve inmates, all kidnappers and murderers, were eventually freed.
After an hourlong hearing at Corcoran State Prison, the three-member panel found Sirhan unsuitable for release because his crime was ”especially cruel” and ”calculated” and because he refuses to take responsibility.
But Sirhan’s lawyer, Lawrence Teeter, says his client was hypnotically programmed to kill Kennedy without being able to remember it afterward. He believes government agents who wanted to prolong the Vietnam War framed Sirhan, who shot Kennedy in Los Angeles’ Ambassador Hotel, just minutes after claiming victory in California’s Democratic presidential primary.
”He was an unconscious person there as a clay pigeon,” Teeter told the board. ”He was in a position to get arrested and take the blame.”
Sirhan filed a petition last May in federal court in Los Angeles challenging his conviction. He says police and prosecutors altered, destroyed and suppressed evidence that could have cleared him.
”He’s innocent,” Teeter said Thursday. ”I can prove all of this.”
During his trial, Sirhan, a Palestinian immigrant, was portrayed as a rabid anti-Zionist who killed Kennedy because the Democratic senator from New York was an outspoken supporter of Israel.
But Sirhan has steadfastly maintained that he has no memory of the shooting and that he liked, respected and would have voted for Kennedy and has no idea why he would want to kill him, his lawyer said.
”He was just as perplexed as everyone else,” Teeter said. ”We as a country will be a lot better off if we knew how and why this happened … find out what’s locked up inside Sirhan’s memory.”
Board member Sharon Lawin repeatedly reminded Teeter, who’s represented Sirhan since 1994, that Thursday’s hearing was not the proper place to retry his client’s case.
They drew Teeter’s attention back to Sirhan’s most recent psychological evaluation, completed in January, which described the inmate as withdrawn, paranoid, narcissistic and anti-social. He spends most of his time in his cell and generally distrusts others, according to the report.
While board members acknowledged Sirhan’s virtually spotless prison record – he’s gotten in trouble only twice in more than 30 years behind bars, most recently in 1972 – they said his risk for violence outside prison would be significantly higher because he refuses to take responsibility for his crime and has no clear plan to avoid future violence.
The board scheduled Sirhan for another hearing in 2003.
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