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Sirhan Sirhan biography: 13 things about Robert F. Kennedy assassin

Sirhan Bishara Sirhan (©California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation)
Sirhan Bishara Sirhan (©California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation)

Sirhan Bishara Sirhan (سرحان بشارة سرحان‎ ) is a Palestinian man born in Musrara, Jerusalem, Mandatory Palestine to Arab Palestinian Christian parents Mary Sirhan and Bishara Sirhan. When the younger Sirhan was young, he witnessed how his older brother was fatally ran over by a Jordanian military vehicle that was swerving to escape Israeli gunfire amid the Arab-Israeli conflict.

While living in the United States, the younger Sirhan retains his Jordanian citizenship and never became a U.S. citizen. Here are 13 more things about him: 

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  1. In May 1948, he and his family left their apartment in Musrara and fled to an Arab-sector house, which they shared with nine other families.
  2. He attended a Lutheran school and his 1955-1956 school report rated his natural history as satisfactory, his conduct, diligence, geometry and English as good and his Arabic as very good. In 1956, he and his family moved from Musrara to the U.S. under a special program for Palestinian refugees. They came by boat to New York, where they first stayed before moving to California. He attended Eliot Junior High School in Altadena, California, John Muir High School in Pasadena, California and Pasadena City College in Pasadena.
  3. In 1964, standing 5’5″ and weighing 210 lbs, he moved to Corona, California to train to be a jockey while working at a stable. He later lost the job and stopped the training after suffering a head injury in a racing accident.
  4. In 1966, he joined the Ancient Mystical Order of the Rose Cross, an esoteric organization also known as the Rosicrucians.
  5. On May 18, 1968, he wrote on a notebook, “My determination to eliminate R.F.K. is becoming more the more of an unshakable obsession.… Robert F. Kennedy must be assassinated before June 5, 1968.”
  6. On June 3, 1968, he visited The Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles, California to learn the building’s layout. On June 4, 1968, he visited a gun range to polish his skills with the pistol.
  7. At around 12:15 a.m. on June 5, 1968, he fired a .22 caliber Iver-Johnson Cadet revolver at Robert Francis Kennedy, 42, and the crowd surrounding the U.S. senator from New York in The Ambassador Hotel. He was subdued and disarmed by several men including George Plimpton, Jimmy Breslin, Pete Hamill, Rosey Grier and Rafer Johnson. Kennedy was shot once in the head and twice in the back and was pronounced dead at 1:44 a.m. on June 6, 1968. On June 9, 1968, he confessed to fatally shooting Kennedy.
  8. On February 10, 1969, his lawyers made a motion in chambers to enter a plea of guilty to first-degree murder in exchange for life imprisonment rather than the death penalty and when he told Judge Herbert V. Walker that he wanted to withdraw his original plea of not guilty in order to plead guilty as charged on all counts, the judge rejected it. On March 3, 1969, he said yes when his attorney Grant Cooper asked him in court if he had shot Kennedy. On April 17, 1969, he was convicted of first-degree murder and assault with intent to murder. On April 23, 1969, he was sentenced to death in the gas chamber at a prison in San Quentin, California. In May 1969, he arrived at the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.
  9. In 1989, he explained in an interview with David Frost that he had killed Kennedy with 20 years of malice aforethought, referring to the creation of the state of Israel in 1948.
  10. In 1972, his sentence was commuted to life in prison.
  11. In February 2016, the California Parole Board denied him parole for the 15th time.
  12. On August 30, 2019, while he was stabbed in the neck at the Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility in East Otay Mesa, California where he serving a life sentence. He was rushed to Scripps Mercy Hospital in Hillcrest, San Diego, California where he was stabilized.
  13. He was 77 years old when he was recommended for parole on August 27, 2021. A two-person panel recommended the parole and it was his 16th parole hearing.

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