James Earl Ray died in prison.
So should Sirhan Sirhan.
But instead the State of California may turn Sirhan loose.
Ray assassinated Martin Luther King Jr. in Memphis on April 4, 1968.
Two months later Sirhan assassinated Robert F. Kennedy in Los Angeles.
Tennessee sentenced Ray to 99 years in prison.
California condemned Sirhan to death.
In 1972 the California Supreme Court ruled that all pending death sentences were unconstitutional. Sirhan’s sentence was commuted and converted to life in prison was the possibility of parole.
Sirhan had been denied parole 15 times.
That changed last week.
A parole hearing panel determined that Sirhan has been rehabilitated.
The only one standing between Sirhan and freedom is Gavin Newsom — or whoever may be governor — after Sirhan’s recommended parole makes it through a review process. It’s to essentially make sure the “i”s have been dotted and the “t”s crossed.
Ray accepted a plea deal to avoid the death penalty.
Sirhan, who was wrestled to the ground clutching the gun he shot Kennedy with, tried to change his plea to guilty a number of times but the trial judge rejected his efforts.
Ray killed a national icon civil rights leader and minister that was the face of an national movement pursing change without violence.
Sirhan killed a sitting senator and a presidential candidate.
Both victims were family men.
The violent death of MLK and RFK arguably altered the course of history.
Ray silenced a man that spoke for equality and the underdog.
Sirhan disenfranchised millions of California voters that bestowed on him the state’s delegates for the Democratic presidential nomination at the upcoming Chicago convention.
Although he vehemently denied being a racist, Ray targeted King who he clearly perceived as a threat because he preached equality.
Sirhan outright stated he killed Kennedy because the senator believed in Israel’s right to exist.
Ray was destined to die behind bars which he did in 1968 from liver disease.
That’s because Ray — even if he were still alive today — did not kill King in Los Angeles County.
If he had and was up for parole today, Los Angeles DA George Gascon would not oppose it.
Gascon did not oppose parole for Sirhan.
After all, Sirhan checked all the boxes to be eligible for parole.
And Gascon as an absolute purist in the restorative justice movement refuses to lend the voice of his office to oppose anyone’s parole regardless how gruesome the crime was.
It’s because Gascon doesn't believe in punishment. He believes in rehabilitation.
To be honest its likely most would support such a stance for a variety of criminal transgressions. A case can be made against incarcerating repeat offenders for lower tier felonies if rehabilitation can succeed, reduce the burden on taxpayers and society as a whole can be reduced, and you can avoid throwing away a life.
But when crimes are so heinous and so absolute such as the premeditation to commit first degree murder it calls for permanent punishment behind bars or a trip to the execution chamber and not a pass.
Restorative justice needs to satisfy both sides of the equation — justice for the victim and society and a just penalty as a price a perpetuator pays.
In Gascon’s world of absolutes there is no exception to the concept of restorative justice as long as those up for parole check the right boxes.
One doesn’t lock up someone and throw away the proverbial keys. It doesn’t matter if they are John Gacy, Ted Bundy, Charlie Manson, Jeffrey Dalmer, or Sirhan Sirhan.
What matters is not the crime. Instead it is the touchy-feely goal of restorative justice despite how monstrous the crime.
Consider his exchange with Melissa Rodríguez in December of 2020 shortly after he took office.
Rodriguez and others were outside a courthouse in Pomona to protest Gascon’s decision to not seek the harshest sentences against their loved ones who had been murdered.
Rodríguez’s son has been kidnapped, tortured, and then murdered. Gascon refused to let his prosecutors seek longer sentences due to special circumstances as allowed by state law.
Some in the group where shouting “you’re supposed to be with the victims and not the criminals.”
Rodríguez screamed, “(they) killed my son, tortured him, and what are you going to do about it? Nothing!”
At one point Rodriquez crossed the line in the World of Gascon Justice when she shouted “what if it were your son?” as he was talking in front of the courthouse with several of his deputy DAs.
Thanks to the magic of smartphones, we know what Gascon thought of Rodríguez.
Garçon, ever the self-righteous guardian of the restorative justice movement, was prompted to respond by saying “I apologize, it’s unfortunate that we have people who don’t have education to keep their mouth shut for a moment so we can speak.”
Given his slave-like devotion to the most progressive tenets of restorative justice, Gascon is proving as reasonable as prosecutors he clearly disdains that throw the book at every criminal they come across regardless of the circumstances.
If ignoring the circumstances that sends somebody to prison 10 years for stealing a loaf of bread or below grade drug offenses back in the days of three strikes you’re out is reprehensible then so should be crimes that go way beyond the envelope of societal norms.
It doesn’t matter that Sirhan is 77 years and is deemed unlikely to repeat the crime of murder in the form of an assassination.
Fifty-three years doesn’t come close to repaying his debt to society.
To hand Sirhan essentially a get out of jail card makes a mockery of the criminal justice system.
And the fact the poster DA for the restorative justice movement is not raising his voice to stop it speaks volumes of the underlying motivation of political opportunists that are zealots as opposed to trying to bring a degrees of measured reason to the criminal justice system.
No sense of remorse and years of being a model prisoner should earn Sirhan the right to live as a free man.
He gave that up when he bought a gun with the intent to kill Kennedy, wrote in his diary on May 19, 1968 that “RFK must die. RFK must be killed. Robert F. Kennedy must be assassinated”, and positioned himself so he could unload three shots into Kennedy including one an inch away from his skill near an ear as the senator exited the ballroom at the Ambassador Hotel.
In the world of Sirhan 53 years is a small to pay to permanently silence a leader he disagrees with.
But for Gascon apparently the price is right.
This column is the opinion of editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinions of The Bulletin or 209 Multimedia. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org