In jail with Sirhan

Sirhan ebook

Today, I’m publishing a new Kindle book on Sirhan Sirhan’s first year in custody, as seen through the diaries kept by the sheriff’s deputies who sat with him before and during his trial, until he was moved to Death Row in San Quentin. It’s the first time any of the Sheriff’s Department records released by the California State Archives in 2011 have been published and you can see an example below, written the day after Sirhan reenacted the shooting for Dr. Diamond and Dr. Pollack under hypnosis.


You can buy the Kindle edition free of charge for five days from tomorrow to encourage debate about why Sirhan’s still in prison all these years later. Read a preview or download a copy here.

The rule of law

This country is governed by the rule of law, it is not governed by terrorist tactics. Now, if you want to deprive me of my rights under your own established rules and your own laws, at least come out and tell me that outright rather than to tell me that you didn’t go to Alcoholics Anonymous programs and on that basis, we’re going to deprive you of your liberty. Tell me that you’re a terrorist and we don’t want you out of our prison, I can live with that. But all these deceptions and devious ways of denying me parole, I don’t think it’s fair.

In the clip above, Sirhan Sirhan responds to being denied parole in 1985, the first of eleven parole hearing transcripts we posted yesterday on the Mary Ferrell Foundation site. Today, we’re posting the transcript of the three-day parole hearing in 1983 below, which completes our set of all available parole hearing transcripts from 1978 to date. For earlier transcripts, see our previous posts.

Parole cancelled

In November 1981, following a petition from L.A. County District Attorney John Van de Kamp, the parole board voted unanimously to consider rescinding 1984 parole date. By sheer coincidence, Van de Kamp was running for state Attorney General that year. Ten days of hearings followed in late April and early May 1982 and on May 22, Sirhan’s parole date was rescinded by the three-member panel.

As reported in the New York Times, the 1975 panel had ‘acted on the understanding that it was obligated to set a parole date for Mr. Sirhan, which it was not’ and had been unaware of two letters containing death threats from Sirhan:

One letter, dated Feb. 24, 1971, was written to Grant Cooper, Mr. Sirhan’s attorney at his 1969 trial. In it Mr. Sirhan wrote of Robert Blair Kaiser, a journalist who worked as an investigator for the defense and wrote a book about Mr. Sirhan: ”If he gets his brains splattered, he will have asked for it like Bobby Kennedy did. Kennedy didn’t scare me. Don’t think that you or Kaiser will.”

In another letter, written in April 1975 to Vern Smith, a prison employee, Mr. Sirhan complained of dental problems. ”When I panic at the loss of my teeth,” he wrote, ”I want you to rest assured that I’m going to kill you” and everyone else who was ”responsible for my continued torture.”

These were isolated outbursts that carried no real threat while Sirhan was in prison but when Kaiser testified on the second day of the 1982 hearing, he was quite spooked by the idea of Sirhan being released. Years later, when we met, he brushed off Sirhan’s note ‘as a piece of literary criticism – he didn’t like my book!’ The temper tantrum of a very frustrated human being, venting on Death Row. ‘Consider the circumstances…’ a regretful Sirhan later told David Frost in the clip below.

32 witnesses were called during the 1982 hearing, with most of the ten days wasted on ludicrous charges brought by the District Attorney’s office – which the panel dismissed – alleging Sirhan had told a rogue’s gallery of present and former convicts and con men that ‘he was involved in an escape plot and…that when released he would assassinate Senator Edward M. Kennedy…and steal plutonium for Libya.’

Today, I’m posting the full transcripts of the 1982 hearings here. The concluding day’s testimony appears below and features closing statements from Deputy D.A. Larry Trapp, Sirhan’s attorney Luke McKissack and Sirhan himself, where he addresses the threatening letters. In an election year, Sirhan didn’t think he had a chance of keeping his parole date but closed with the following:

I have had fourteen years to reflect on human life. I have spent agonising and trying times on death row where the question of life and living was in every thought…No person can feel better or richer in spirit for taking another person’s life. I sincerely believe that if Robert Kennedy were alive today, he would not countenance singling me out for this kind of treatment. I think he would be amongst the first to say that however horrible a deed I committed fourteen years ago, it should not be the cause for denying me equal treatment under the laws of this country.

‘He views himself as a political prisoner, not a political assassin,’ the parole panel concluded and he’s remained a political prisoner ever since. As Larry Trapp told the press after the 1983 hearing, ‘Political assassination in America must never be rewarded by freedom’.

The Mind of an Assassin

“My brother was a man of love and sentiment and compassion. He would not have wanted his death to be a cause for the taking of another life”

On May 21, 1969, despite an eloquent plea from Senator Edward Kennedy on behalf of his fallen brother, Sirhan’s death sentence was confirmed. The next day, Sirhan Sirhan was interviewed by Jack Perkins of NBC and their eighteen-minute interview aired as First Tuesday – The Mind of an Assassin two weeks later. It’s a fascinating distillation of the mysteries and conundrums of the trial. Perkins leads Sirhan through the case and often seems bewildered by his responses.

The clips below from The Killing of America give a flavour of the interview but are sensationalist and misleading, with fake gunshots added and Perkins’ voice redubbed. When Sirhan says Kennedy “seemed like a saint”, he’s talking about seeing him at the Ambassador on Sunday, June 2nd, not the night of the assassination. So below the video, I’m posting audio of the complete Perkins interview – a fascinating insight into Sirhan’s state of mind the day before he was moved to Death Row in San Quentin.

Inside Sirhan’s Mind

Today’s post continues our audio retrospective and keeps the focus on the mental state of Sirhan Sirhan on the night of the shooting. On January 26, 1969, shortly before Sirhan’s trial, the defense and prosecution psychiatrists, Dr. Bernard Diamond and Dr Seymour Pollack, went up to see Sirhan with defense investigator Robert Blair Kaiser. They put him under hypnosis and had him try to re-enact the night of the shooting in one of the most disturbing sessions you’re ever likely to hear.

During his first summer on Death Row in San Quentin, Sirhan received twenty weekly visits from the prison’s senior psychologist Dr. Eduard Simson Kallas. They built a strong rapport and Sirhan wanted Simson-Kallas to use hypnosis to help him remember the night of the shooting but the warden terminated the visits before the hypnosis sessions could start. Here, Simson-Kallas reflects on the Sirhan case with Mae Brussell.

Diamond, Pollack, Kaiser and Simson-Kallas all believed Sirhan was in a hypnotic state when he fired his gun at the Ambassador. Sirhan practiced self-hypnosis at home in his room and Diamond believed that, triggered by the mirrors at the Ambassador Hotel, Sirhan had carried out the posthypnotic suggestion repeatedly inscribed in his notebooks “R.F.K. must die.” Kaiser and Simson-Kallas believed Sirhan was a Manchurian Candidate, hypnotically programmed by persons unknown to kill Kennedy. What they all agreed was that Sirhan was not in his right mind on the night of the shooting.