Far From Resolved
Physical evidence and eyewitness testimony give reason to reconsider
Sirhan Sirhans conviction for the 1968 murder of Robert F.
By Thom White
June 5, 2005 LOS ANGELES -- The L.A. Unified School
District is about to knock down the historic Ambassador
Hotel to build some schools -- another example of L.A. tearing
down and paving over what is supposed to be such a proud civic history.
Demolition is set to begin while a legal petition
rests before the California Supreme Court presenting evidence that
calls into question what really happened in the most important event
to take place during the Ambassadors 85-year history: the
assassination of Sen. Robert F. Kennedy.
In the summer of 1969, a Palestinian immigrant by
the improbable and unmistakeably foreign name of Sirhan Sirhan was
convicted of murdering the candidate for the U.S. presidency. However,
bullet hole evidence, the L.A. County coroners autopsy report,
and eyewitness accounts of the assassination and crime scene investigation,
all provide substantial evidence to support the claim that it was
not physically possible for Sirhan Sirhan to have been Robert F.
Kennedys murderer, and that it was another person in the jam-packed
pantry (directly behind and to the right of Kennedy) who committed
this murder at midnight. So does Sirhan Sirhan deserve a retrial?
And what is L.A. covering up now with all this fresh tar and asphalt?
To really know, you need some details.
Rise of Robert F. Kennedy
Francis Kennedy came from the wealthy and politically powerful
Kennedy and Fitzgerald clans. His father, industrialist Joseph P.
Kennedy, rose to great wealth during Prohibition, and prominence
under FDR, and set the stage for the political careers of his sons.
Robert managed older brother Johns successful run for Senate
in 1952, and then Johns bigger run for the presidency in 1960.
In November 1960, John defeated Vice-President Richard M. Nixon
to be elected president of the United States, although evidence
emerged later that Kennedys wins
in Texas and Illinois (which handed him the national victory)
were the result of voter fraud. Further research has shown that
Kennedys running mate, Sen.
Lyndon B. Johnson, had won previous Senate elections in Texas
in 1948 and 1954 through voter fraud.
President Jack named Robert to be the most powerful
lawyer in the land, Attorney General, and Bobby did his best to
help guide the Kennedy administrations cold war liberal
legislative agenda. After his brothers murder by gunmen in
the streets of Dallas on 11/22, Robert stayed on for a turn under
LBJ. He then resigned to run for the U.S. Senate in New York, and
he won that election in 1964.
By 1967, the number of dead and wounded U.S. soldiers
being returned from Vietnam had reached an unpopular level. Catholic
McCarthy, a Senator from Minnesota, began campaigning against
President Lyndon Johnson in 1967 on a clear platform of negotiated
peace with the Communists, eventual withdrawal of Americans from
the foreign strife, and an end to U.S. military control of the southern
end of Indochina. When Johnson barely edged out McCarthy in the
first Democratic primary in New Hampshire (a victory for McCarthy),
the President announced he would not seek re-election. Senator Robert
Kennedy and Vice President Hubert Humphrey would throw their hats
in the ring to challenge McCarthy for the nomination.
In Spring 1968, Sen. McCarthy and Sen. Kennedy split
80% of the voters in many of the Democratic state primaries, while
V.P. Humphrey would pull in 10-15%. On the Oregon ballot in late
May, Gene McCarthy pulled off a big win against Kennedy. Kennedy
turned to concentrate his resources on winning the state primary
in California, where he was thought to have an advantage. A victory
there on June 4 would give him the momentum to gain the Party nomination
at what was to be a contentious Democratic Convention in Chicago.
Scene of the
Robert Kennedys California campaign was headquartered
at the Ambassador Hotel. By nightfall on June 4, campaign workers
and media crowded the Ambassadors Embassy Ballroom, watching
television for ballot results as the evening progressed. Kennedy
himself was in the Royal Suite and the Court
TV Crime Library describes the scene:
RFK remained watchful, cautious, glued to his
television in the Royal Suite where good friends, political allies
and a few celebrities encircled him. Comedian Milton Berle and football
great Roosevelt Rosey Grier were there, and so was Decathlon
champ Rafer Johnson. Occasionally, Kennedy leaned over to joke with
one of these men or to seek advice from one of his aides and advisors
- Pierre Salinger, Ted Sorenson or press secretary Fred Mankiewicz,
for example ... Wife Ethel, in her early pregnancy with their eleventh
child, relaxed on the sofa near her husband
By 11:30 p.m., a victory for Kennedy seemed imminent.
With wife Ethel and his entourage, the senator moved to the ballroom
where, upon entering, he was greeted by frantic applause. Red-white-and-blue
ribbons decorated the wall behind the speakers podium and
balloons colored the ceiling overhead. Flashbulbs popped, and music
from an orchestra sent the sea of heads before the stage bobbing
in rhythm. Raising his arms for attention, a smiling Bobby,
as his fans called him, thanked the room for their great support
and, adding a bit of humor, thanked pitcher Don Drysdale for winning
his sixth straight shut-out that afternoon.
Then the speech turned serious. Kennedy addressed
the fact that the nation needed to overcome racial divisions and
other social evils (the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King
had taken place exactly two months before to the day), as well as
an end to the unpopular war in Vietnam. Concluding his speech with
a victory sign and the words,
now on to Chicago, and
lets win there! the house once again broke loose. We
want Bobby! We want Bobby! sang the house. Grinning, he turned
towards the side door that would take him through a food preparation
area, a short cut to where the press was waiting in the Colonial
Room beyond. It was now 12:15 a.m., June 5.
According L.A. Rams tackle Rosey
Griers testimony to the LAPD, at the end of Kennedys
speech, the group on-stage had planned to exit to the right to head
to a press conference, but at the last moment, the head of RFKs
security, Bill Barry, told Kennedy and the entourage to take an
alternate route through a pantry area, apparently to avoid some
press along the way. According to Grier:
Well, first of all, we were up on the stage,
and they said they was going off to the right of the stage, and
at the last minute ... Bill Barry decided to change and go a different
direction because people had found out which way the senator was
going to go, and we had to go downstairs to another ballroom where
people were waiting. This was a press gathering here, and so Bill
Barry and someone else took the senator down and I was lifting Mrs.
Kennedy down from the stairs and we started walking....
Barry then fell behind the group, staying by the
stage to help Ethel Skakel Kennedy from the stage, while Robert
Kennedy and crew headed down a ramp through double doors into the
kitchen pantry. Lisa Pease describes the scene of the murder in
her invaluable 1998 investigative piece in Probe magazine, Sirhan
& the RFK Assassination:
Maître d Karl Uecker gripped Kennedys
right wrist with his left hand. Ace Guard Service employee Thane
Eugene Cesar joined Kennedy as he went through the double doors
into the pantry, touching his right elbow. Bill Barry, an ex-FBI
man who was ostensibly serving as Kennedys bodyguard, had
fallen behind Kennedy as he entered the pantry.
As they headed east through the room, Kennedy
stopped every few feet to shake the hands of hotel workers. The
last hand he shook was that of busboy Juan Romero. Uecker pulled
Kennedy as he moved forward. The tiny kitchen held, by official
count, 77 people (including Sirhan and the shooting victims) who
were possible witnesses to what happened next.
Uecker related that with Kennedy still in hand,
he felt someone sliding in between himself and the steam table about
two feet away from where he stood. Busboy Juan Romero and waiter
Martin Patrusky saw Sirhan approach Kennedy, as did Lisa Urso, a
San Diego high school student. Urso saw Sirhan push his way past
her towards the Senator. She thought he was going to shake his hand,
then saw a movement that made her stop in her tracks in frightened
anticipation. Vincent DiPierro, a waiter who had observed Sirhan
standing and talking to a pretty girl in a white, polka dotted dress
earlier that night, heard someone yell Grab him a split
second before the shots were fired. Somebody reported Sirhan saying,
Kennedy, you son of a bitch, and then firing at Kennedy
with his hand outstretched.
Uecker felt Kennedy slip from his grasp as he
fell to the ground. Screams were heard as bystanders Paul Schrade,
William Weisel, Ira Goldstein, Erwin Stroll and Elizabeth Evans
were hit by flying bullets. Kennedy suffered gunshot wounds in three
different places, with a fourth bullet passing through his coat
without entering the skin.
Uecker immediately grabbed Sirhans hand
and forced it down onto the steam table. A swarm of men descended
upon Sirhan, surrounding him, holding the gun. Decathlon champion
Rafer Johnson, Grier, George Plimpton and others formed a barricade
around Sirhan, one holding his head, another with a finger in the
trigger to prevent additional shots, another grabbing Sirhan in
a crushing bear hug.
Uecker and DiPierro reported initially hearing
two shots, followed by a flurry. DiPierro told the LAPD, I
saw the first two go off. I saw them actually. Several witnesses
reported hearing one or two shots, and then a pause. Then all hell
broke loose. Witnesses not within eyesight of what was happening
thought they were hearing balloons popping or firecrackers. Los
Angeles photographer Boris Yaro, in a phone interview with Robert
Morrow, recounted his memory of the event:
There was either one or two shots fired.
O.K. And then, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom. There was a pregnant
pause between those two because my initial impression was some jackass
has set off firecrackers in here; because I got hit in the face
with debris...And then it hit me. Oh, my God, its happened
Sirhan was eventually subdued, and taken into
The official line arrived at dawn. June 5: America
awakens to the news that beloved Bobby Kennedy had been shot by
a Middle-Eastern waiter who approached the Senator among the other
well-wishers, not to offer a handshake of goodwill, but with eight
rounds of deadly bullet fire. The madman had shot Kennedy in the
head and injured five others, before being heroically put in an
armlock by members of the celebrity entourage. After being roughed
up by the angry crowd at the Ambassador, the Kennedy killer was
ceremoniously handed over by State Assemblyman Jesse Unruh to the
At 9 a.m. on June 5, hours after the shootout, members
of the Sirhan clan arrived at the police station saying they had
seen pictures of their brother on the television. Within hours,
police ransacked Sirhans mothers residence in Pasadena
(696 E. Howard) and turned up notebook scribblings by Sirhan about
how RFK must die and how killing Kennedy was becoming
June 6: America learns that RFK is dead and had
been murdered by the crazed Palestinian partisan Sirhan Sirhan who
had a grudge against Kennedy because the Senator supported selling
Phantom jets to Israel. Ironically, Robert Kennedy would
expire on the first anniversary of Israels Six Day Invasion
of Egypt, Jordan, and Syria which had commenced on 6/6/67.
It was an open and shut case: Sirhan Sirhan had murdered
Robert F. Kennedy. But consider the following evidence:
Follow the bullets
There is evidence of more than eight bullets
being fired. Sirhans gun only had eight chambers, and
there was no time for him to reload, so for the crazed lone
gunman theory to be plausible, there could only be evidence
of eight bullets fired.
As many as five or six ceiling panels were removed
by the LAPD investigating team, and lead criminalogist DeWayne Wolfer
is quoted as saying, Its unbelievable how many holes
there are in the kitchen ceiling.
Wolfer filled his official report with magic
bullets (bullets #2, 4, and 6 that supposedly struck more
than one person) to stay within the eight-bullet parameters and
reach the desired conclusion. Here is how the LAPD accounted for
Bullet #1: struck Senator Robert F. Kennedy
behind the right ear.
Bullet #2: passed through RFKs right shoulder pad and
struck campaign aide Paul Schrade in the forehead.
Bullet #3: entered RFKs back inches below the top of
the right shoulder.
Bullet #4: entered RFKs back, about one inch below
bullet #3, but exited the senators body through the right
Bullet #5: struck Ira Goldstein in the right rear buttock.
Bullet #6: passed through Goldsteins pants leg, struck
the cement floor, and, ricocheted onto Irwin Strolls left
Bullet #7: struck William Weisel in the left abdomen.
Bullet #8: reflected off the plaster ceiling to strike Elizabeth
Evans in the head.
Robert Kennedy was shot three times, and five others
were shot (that would make eight bullets); one bullet went through
Kennedys clothing and exited out, and the same happened to
Ira Goldstein who had a bullet pass through his clothing without
piercing skin. So that would make ten.
Additionally, there was an Associated Press photo
published June 5, 1968, which showed two LAPD officers pointing
out two bullets lodged in the door jamb between the double doors
where Kennedy had entered the pantry, and this would make 12 bullets.
Researcher Lisa Pease argues, If there were more than eight
bullets, Sirhan was not a deranged, lone gunman, but somehow part
of a conspiracy which has yet to be officially acknowledged.
According to Lisa Pease:
In 1975, Vincent Bugliosi, who was then working
with [Paul] Schrade [a Kennedy aide who was shot] to get the case
reopened, tracked down the two police officers depicted in the photograph.
To that time their identities had been unknown. Bugliosi identified
the two officers as Sgt. Charles Wright and Sgt. Robert Rozzi. Both
Wright and Rozzi were sure that what they observed was not only
a bullet hole, but a hole containing a bullet
Investigative reporter Jonn Christian found a
Chicago Tribune article authored by Robert Weidrich. Weidrich had
evidently been in the pantry as the doorjamb was being removed,
for his account contained the following information:
On a low table lay an 8-foot strip of molding,
torn by police from the center post of the double doors leading
from the ballroom. These were the doors through which Sen. Kennedy
had walked....Now the molding bore the scars of a crime laboratory
technicians probe as it had removed two .22-caliber bullets
that had gone wild.
The LAPD report said these holes were not from bullets
and may have been caused by collisions with a food cart, but even
FBI agent William Bailey said that for him and other agents, There
was no questions in any of our minds as to the fact that they were
These bullets are not accounted for in Wolfers LAPD report.
This door jamb was destroyed under a court order in 1969 soon after
Sirhans conviction for murder.
The autopsy report proves that it was physically
impossible for Sirhan to have fired the fatal shot to the back of
Kennedys head, or any other shot that struck the Senator.
The autopsy shows that Kennedy was shot from behind from below,
while all witnesses say that Sirhan Sirhan shot at Robert Kennedy
in a face to face position from 2-5 feet away with his arm outstretched
horizontally toward the Senator. The trajectories of bullets that
struck Kennedy were at sharp upward angles of 60° to 80°
(nearly vertical), and the mortal wound fired into his brain was
from just a couple inches behind him.
describes the autopsy:
Los Angeles Coroner Thomas Noguchi conducted
the official autopsy on the body of Robert Francis Kennedy on the
morning of June 6. This very experienced coroner removed one intact
bullet and fragments from another. The operation was witnessed by,
according to writer Dan Moldea, three forensic pathologists
from the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology in Washington and by
two of Noguchis associates.
In his resulting 62-page report, Noguchi stated
that the shot that killed RFK had entered through the mastoid
bone, an inch behind the right ear and had traveled upward to sever
the branches of the superior cerebral artery. The largest
fragment of that bullet lodged in the brain stem.
Another shot had penetrated Kennedys right
armpit and exited through the upper portion of his chest at a 59-degree
angle. The coroner determined that the senators arm must have
been upraised when that bullet entered.
Yet another, a third shot, entered one-and-a-half
inches below the previous one and stopped in the neck near the sixth
cervical. This is the bullet that was found intact.
Checking Kennedys clothing for other telltale
signs, Noguchi followed the path between two bullet holes in his
suit coat and announced that a fourth bullet had been fired at the
senator. It entered and exited the fabric without touching the senator.
Prosecutors withheld the autopsy report from Sirhans
defense team until four months into the trial, and after Sirhans
defense attorney Grant Cooper had needlessly admitted Sirhans
guilt to the crime of murder during his opening argument. Although
the LAPDs DeWayne Wolfer made a detailed scheme of the path
of Sirhans eight bullets, Thomas
Noguchi responded that there was really no way to accurately
trace the flight path of so many bullets. In his 1983 autobiography
Coroner, Noguchi wrote, Until more is precisely known
the existence of the second gunman remains a possibility.
Thus, I have never said that Sirhan Sirhan killed Robert Kennedy.
Security guard Gene Cesar
Thane Eugene Cesar, a recently-hired twenty-six
year old part-time private security guard who worked full-time for
Lockheed Aircraft, stood to Kennedys right as the group passed
into the pantry. Cesar admitted to police that at the time of the
assassination, he was standing behind and in actual contact with
Senator Kennedy, and when the shooting began, he dropped down into
a crouching position and pulled out his gun.
This account puts Cesar (and not Sirhan) in position
to have shot Kennedy at close range with the upward angle by which
the Senator was struck three times. After gunfire had ceased, Cesar
advanced on Sirhan with his gun drawn, but Rosie Grier ordered him
to put it away.
Cesar falsely told police that he had sold his .22 revolver before
the crime, but a receipt proves that it was actually sold after
the crime. The LAPD never test fired Cesars gun or asked to
see it even once Cesar admitted having been in position to have
fired the shots which struck RFK. The FBI was later told that the
gun had been stolen from the home of the person who purchased it
Assassination researcher Ted
Charach claims to have a film of a June 5, 1968, KNXT news (now
KCBS) interview with shooting eyewitness Donald Schulman who tells
Jerry Dunphy (R.I.P) that a security guard (probably Ace security
guard Eugene Cesar) had fired his gun back at Sirhan and had accidentally
shot Kennedy. Jerry Dunphy and KCBS have denied that this interview
ever took place.
Photos of scene destroyed
The LAPD destroyed photographic evidence of the
crime scene. One person who took photographs of the assassination
scene, 15-year-old Jamie
Scott Enyart, was tackled and arrested at gunpoint by the LAPD.
His camera was seized and the film was never returned. In 1996,
Enyart won a substantial amount of money in a civil suit against
the LAPD in which he alleged the police department had willfully
misfiled and then destroyed his photographs along with 2400 other
assassination-related photos in an L.A. County Hospital incinerator
Sirhan was seen with two other people before
the assassination who later were heard shouting We shot him!
Two witnesses, waiter Vincent Di Pierro and campaign worker Sandra
Serrano, had seen Sirhan earlier in the evening hanging out with
a guy and a girl. While taking in some fresh air on outdoor steps
that lead up to the Embassy Ballroom, Sandra Serrano saw the group
of three ascend the steps at about 11:30 p.m. Di Pierro says he
noticed Sirhan standing by the tray table prior to the shooting
because Sirhan was talking to an attractive girl in a polka dot
dress. After the shooting, according to Serrano and another couple,
the girl and guy (minus Sirhan) came back down the steps proclaiming
We shot Kennedy!
Sgt. Paul Sharaga, the first police officer on the
scene, soon filed a report saying witnesses had seen a young man
and a woman in a purple and white polka dot dress running out of
the hotel shouting We shot him! We shot him! He put
out an All Points Bulletin on these two suspects, but LAPD higher-ups
later cancelled this search. In fact, within minutes of the shooting,
Sirhan Sirhan was the sole suspect.
During the police investigation, Special Unit Senator
(SUS), the LAPDs sole polygraph operator, Sgt. Enrique Hank
Hernandez, did intensive interviews with Serrano trying to convince
her that she did not hear anyone say We shot him! Transcripts
show lie detector expert Hernandez badgering Serrano to renounce
the testimony, saying she is shaming Senator Kennedy
by keeping up with her story that the couple had said We shot
Kennedy! But an agitated Serrano responds that Thats
what I heard!
In the end, Manuel Pena, head of the SUS investigation
insisted that witnesses misheard the couple, who had only said They
shot him! The polka dot dress story was dismissed.
Witnesses in the pantry saw other men with guns
besides Sirhan Sirhan and Eugene Cesar. High school student
Lisa Urso noticed a blond man in a gray suit putting a gun back
in a holster, and a second witness saw a dark-haired man in a black
suit (likely identified as Michael Wayne) fire two shots and then
run out of the room.
Sirhans current attorney, Lawrence
Teeter, is pushing for a California Supreme Court evidentiary
hearing to show physical evidence which could exonerate Sirhan
of the assassination.
Teeters main contention is that the L.A. County
autopsy of Robert Kennedy, conducted by Thomas Noguchi, confirms
that the Senator was shot three times from behind and mortally wounded
by one bullet to the back of the head. This bullet entered Kennedys
brain from right behind his right ear, and was fired from less than
two inches from his head. The fact that the shot was point blank
is proven by powder burns around the wound which only
occur when a firearm is fewer than 3 inches from the target. Kennedys
other wounds, to his shoulder and under his right armpit, were also
angled from behind (a fourth shot from behind went through Kennedys
suit without piercing skin).
Sirhan Sirhan was spotted firing an eight-round
Ivar Johnson handgun at Sen. Kennedy from 2-5 feet in front of the
presidential candidate, before being tackled by members of Kennedys
entourage. Sirhan stood several feet in front of Kennedy, while
all of Kennedys wounds were from a gun fired from behind him.
So how could Sirhan have shot Kennedy even once?
Teeter also argues that physical evidence of the
total number of bullets fired in the pantry proves that there was
at least one other gunman in the pantry. At the end of the bloody
melee, six people were shot (Kennedy was the only person who would
die), and there were bullet holes in ceiling panels, doors, and
doorjambs. Sirhans gun could hold eight bullets, but by counting
the number of wounded and stray bullet holes around, there was evidence
of at least ten bullets fired, and possibly more.
Teeter opposes demolition of the Ambassador Hotel
because this represents destruction of vital evidence to his client.
Although a lot of evidence was destroyed by the LAPD before and
after Sirhans conviction, Teeter believes remaining evidence
of bullet holes in the walls and ceilings of the pantry area could
be analyzed for further proof that another gunman fired shots at
the Senator, and in a real position to murder Kennedy.
The LAUSDs Heritage K-12 plan calls for creation
of a five-member commission of presidential scholars to advise
the school district on the appropriate treatment of the kitchen
pantry where Senator Robert F. Kennedy was murdered. LAUSD
Superintendant Roy Romer has acknowledged that because the entire
hotel building will be demolished, the pantry would have to be containerized
for possible re-creation and reinstallment in a new building.
Members of the Kennedy clan have publicly stated that they want
the pantry/corridor to be demolished with the rest of the building
and that preservation would be ghoulish.
Robert F. Kennedy Assassination Resources:
Probe Magazine on JFK, MLK, RFK and Malcolm X
Edited by James DiEugenio and Lisa Pease
Publisher: Feral House
Sirhan and the RFK Assassination by Lisa Pease
Bartcop Assassination Series: RFK
Official site of Lawrence Teeter,
attorney for Sirhan Sirhan