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Schwarzenegger faces potential parole dilemma

Robert F. Kennedy’s assassin, Sirhan Sirhan, comes up for parole again this week in a potential conflict for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who is married to Kennedy’s niece.
Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger holds up
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger with his wife, Maria Shriver, in 2005. Shriver's uncle, Robert F. Kennedy, was assassinated in 1968.Robyn Beck / AFP - Getty Images file
/ Source: The Associated Press

Robert F. Kennedy’s assassin, Sirhan Sirhan, comes up for parole again this week in a potential conflict for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who is married to RFK’s niece.

Sirhan shot Kennedy to death at a Los Angeles hotel in 1968, minutes after the New York senator claimed victory in the California presidential primary. Sirhan received a death sentence, which was commuted to life in prison in 1972 when the California Supreme Court declared the death penalty unconstitutional.

The assassin’s parole hearing at Corcoran State Prison on Wednesday — the 13th since his conviction and the first since Schwarzenegger’s election in 2003 — will be heard by two board members, one of whom was appointed by Schwarzenegger.

If the board recommends his release — and that is unlikely, experts say — the decision of whether to free Sirhan will fall to Schwarzenegger, setting up an unusual dilemma.

“Judges can recuse themselves, but this is not the kind of decision a governor can delegate,” said Jack Pitney, a government professor at Claremont McKenna College.

Decision unlikely to be made by governor
The governor’s press office declined to comment, saying it is highly unlikely the decision would fall to Schwarzenegger.

Sirhan’s longtime lawyer died last year, and he has not chosen a new attorney.

Los Angeles Deputy District Attorney David Dahle, who will argue the state’s case before the parole board, said there is little chance the decision would fall to the Republican governor. He conceded there is at least the appearance of a conflict.

“Obviously there’s an issue. He’s married to the Kennedy family,” he said. “But he is not a member of the immediate family.”

Schwarzenegger’s wife is TV journalist Maria Shriver. Her mother, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, was a sister of RFK and President Kennedy.

Schwarzenegger and Shriver are occasional visitors to the Massachusetts home of Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, RFK’s younger brother. As recently as last year, the California governor participated in a benefit for the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial.