Ethel Kennedy, the widow of Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, said Sirhan Bishara Sirhan, her husband's assassin, should not be released from prison.
"Bobby believed we should work to 'tame the savageness of man and make gentle the life of the world.' He wanted to end the war in Vietnam and bring people together to build a better, stronger country. More than anything, he wanted to be a good father and loving husband," she said Tuesday in a rare statement to NBC News.
"Our family and our country suffered an unspeakable loss due to the inhumanity of one man. We believe in the gentleness that spared his life, but in taming his act of violence, he should not have the opportunity to terrorize again," the statement said.
At the bottom of the typed statement, she added a handwritten note. "He should not be paroled," she said.
Last month, Sirhan went before a California parole board to seek parole — for the 16th time.
Unlike his previous attempts, the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office did not oppose the release, and a two-person panel found him suitable for parole. The decision must still be approved by the governor.
Sirhan, a Christian-born Palestinian from Jordan who opposed Robert F. Kennedy's support for Israel, shot the presidential hopeful on June 5, 1968, in the kitchen of the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles, where he was celebrating victory in the state's Democratic primary. The 42-year-old died the following day.
Sirhan was caught with a gun in his hand but has maintained for years that he doesn't remember shooting the senator. He was initially sentenced to death, but the sentence was commuted to life in prison after the state banned the death penalty.
Many of Robert F. Kennedy's children have echoed Ethel Kennedy's sentiments. Joseph P. Kennedy II, Courtney Kennedy, Kerry Kennedy, Christopher G. Kennedy, Maxwell T. Kennedy and Rory Kennedy said in a joint statement following Sirhan's parole hearing that the assassination was "a crime against our nation."
"As children of Robert F. Kennedy, we are devastated that the man who murdered our father has been recommended for parole," they said. "Our father's death is a very difficult matter for us to discuss publicly and for the past many decades we have declined to engage directly in the parole process."
The children went on to say that they urge the parole board staff, the full board and Gov. Gavin Newsom "to reverse this initial recommendation."
According to The Associated Press, two of Kennedy's other children, lawyer Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and writer Douglas Kennedy, expressed support for the parole, although the latter had concerns about what he described as Sirhan's continued empathy for Palestine.
Sirhan's attorney, Angela Berry, said that he should be released.
"It is important for everyone to understand that Mr. Sirhan was not bestowed with a 'gentleness that spared his life,' as Mrs. Kennedy states," Berry said in the statement. Berry said that Sirhan's death sentence was converted to life without parole because the death penalty as applied in California was ruled unconstitutional.
"Surely, no defendant should be sentenced to the ultimate punishment of death under an unconstitutional law, and I believe her late husband would whole-heartedly agree with that notion, Berry said."