Thursday, November 24, 2005

CONSPIRACY: The Robert F. Kennedy Assassination

On June 5, 1968, just after midnight, Robert Kennedy was fatally wounded in the pantry of the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles following his win in that night's California presidential primary.

The armed assailant was taken into custody that night and was later identified as a 25-year old Palestinian immigrant, Sirhan Bishara Sirhan. He remains in prison to this day for the assassination of Senator Kennedy.

Four days after the shooting, the Los Angeles Police Department and the FBI formed Special Unit Senator (SUS), a group tasked with investigating the shooting.

SUS members are keenly aware of the importance of the investigation: their rallying cry, "not another Dallas," invokes the widely maligned Dallas Police investigation into the assassination of President John F. Kennedy nearly three years earlier and their hopes to avoid just such a situation.

In the course of a seven month investigation, SUS concludes that Sirhan was the lone gunman. Three months later, on April 14, 1969, Sirhan was convicted of first degree murder and later sentenced to die in California's gas chamber. His sentence was changed to life in prison in 1972 after the California Supreme Court ruled that the death is penalty unconstitutional.

It was widely accepted by the press and the public that Sirhan was the lone gunman until the mid 1970s when a researcher named Greg Stone obtained an FBI report on the case suggesting that more bullets may have been found by police in the pantry that night than the eight investigators later claimed Sirhan fired.

The FBI report featured photos of investigators pointing to what are labeled "bullet holes" in the doorjamb of the pantry. Stone joined forces with Paul Schrade, who was a Kennedy campaign worker and was also critically wounded that night, and political science professor Philip Melanson. Together the three pressed the LAPD and the FBI for the case files.

On April 19, 1988, the researchers prevailed as the LAPD turned over 50,000 pages of evidence; that same year the FBI turned the 4,000 page case file. But their victory was stymied when the LAPD announced that it had destroyed evidence while Sirhan's case was still under appeal; they claimed that this evidence had no evidentiary value.

However, researchers believe that these materials contain evidence of extra bullets suggesting the presence of a second gunman and that the LAPD's own trajectory analysis suggests that Sirhan Sirhan did not fire the shots that killed Robert Kennedy. The destruction of evidence, these critics say, is proof of a coordinated police cover-up.

Additionally, they maintain that Sirhan's defense did an inadequate job of challenging the prosecution's often contradictory evidence relating to his mental state and the LA County Coroner's report.

More than thirty-five years later questions in the Robert Kennedy assassination remain: Was there was a second gunman in the pantry? Is there evidence of a police cover-up? What was Sirhan Sirhan's mental state that night and what drove him to assassinate RFK?


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