Doerner/My Turn: This time, they killed RFK

Editor’s note: Carl Doerner is writing a series of My Turn submissions examining several assassinations in the United States.

Just after midnight on this day 45 years ago, presidential candidate Sen. Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated in Los Angeles.

Sirhan Sirhan and at least one other gunman approached him in the kitchen of the Ambassador Hotel just after his speech celebrating his 1968 California primary win.

Endeavoring to prove another person fired the fatal shots, as well as other circumstances regarding the murder, Sirhan’s attorney, William Pepper, has been seeking a new trial. So far that effort has been officially thwarted.

Christian immigrants from Palestine, Sirhan’s family had barely survived Zionist attacks. In his pocket at the time of his arrest, was a newspaper report of the U.S. shipping 50 bombers to Israel. This item, combined with Palestinian heritage, provided a neat design for framing him.

Following enemy experiments on American prisoners during World War II and in Korea, the CIA launched hypnosis experiments called MKULTRA and Operation Artichoke, with the specific aim of programming assassins. From 1953 onward, the agency conducted research at universities, hospitals and prisons, using hypnosis and drugs for mind control of subjects. In 1973, Director Richard Helms ordered records destroyed but evidence of the program survived.

Sirhan was both strongly interested in hypnotism and one of the 5 percent of the population who are prime subjects. Sirhan appeared to not understand why he was arrested. Throughout his life sentence, he has maintained he has no memory of events at the hotel, but public doubt that “mind control” was possible allowed conspirators to kill Robert Kennedy, the man who threatened to break the silence surrounding other assassinations of the 1960s.

As in these earlier killings, there was deliberate rush to judgment and improper preservation and use of evidence of the crime. As with assassination of President John F. Kennedy in Dallas and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in Memphis, walking through this process in Los Angeles is instructive and provides proof of widespread conspiracy.

While Sirhan’s gun held only eight bullets, and seven of these were recovered from victims, the FBI marked numerous other bullet holes in wall panels and the ceiling. Bullets were gathered from these holes by the Los Angeles Police Department and destroyed. With the very first shot, Sirhan was in the grips of a bodyguard, former New York Giants defensive lineman Roosevelt Grier. Pinned down, Sirhan continued to pull the trigger, accounting for random wounds to others in the crowd. Examining the scene, FBI Agent William Bailey said he seriously doubted any of Kennedy’s wounds actually came from Sirhan’s gun.

Twelve witnesses placed Sirhan four to six feet in front of Kennedy. Not admitted into evidence at Sirhan’s trial, the autopsy report shows three bullets fired at an upward angle by someone crouching behind the senator in the crowd. Powder burns indicate the fatal shot was from an assassin’s gun placed about an inch behind Kennedy’s ear.

The pattern of response to earlier assassinations was followed.

Eyewitness accounts were ignored or altered by authorities. A campaign fundraiser who followed Robert into the room, testified she heard 12 to 14 shots, first from in front of her, then from her right. The FBI rewrote her statement to read that she heard eight shots.

Two witnesses said Sirhan was accompanied by a woman (likely his programmer) wearing a white polka dot dress. One woman who reported this — as well as seeing two men fleeing with her — reported being bullied into silence by police and told “you’re making this all up.” Less than 10 percent of the interviews conducted by LAPD were preserved. Accounts that did not fit the developed narrative were ignored.

Witnesses said they saw several persons with drawn guns. One of those, positioned behind Robert, was part-time security guard Thane Eugene Cesar. His gun, drawn and fired, was not tested.

The most direct evidence of conspiracy is an authenticated audio recording. An oscillogram shows 13 shots fired and from different directions.

In seeking the new trial, attorney Pepper comments, “We have to realize the (other gunman) is only a mechanic and he is operating on behalf of larger and more powerful forces who wanted Kennedy killed.”

Robert Kennedy called the Warren Commission work “shoddy.” He thought the CIA was involved in the murder of his brother. Three known CIA agents were in the audience that night. Early in his presidential campaign Robert acknowledged, “There are guns between me and the White House.”

Robert Kennedy stood with his brother John in ending the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Cold War, championed blacks in apartheid South Africa, the Civil Rights Movement, the poor in Appalachia, labor and California farm workers. His campaign aims, to end the Vietnam War and achieve economic and social justice, were anathema for powerful forces that wanted him dead.

Reportedly, these were his last words: “Is everyone else all right?”

Conway resident Carl Doerner is an author, journalist and documentary filmmaker.

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