LOS ANGELES (Apr. 17)
The trial of Sirhan Bishara Sirhan for the slaying of Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, which the Palestinian-born Arab youth sought to make an anti-Israel forum, a propaganda effort backed by Arab guerrilla groups, ended today with a verdict of guilty of first degree murder. The verdict meant that Sirhan faced the possibility of death in a California gas chamber or life in prison. The same jurors will begin deliberation of the sentence. The trial lasted 15 weeks but the determination of the sentence was expected to be made within a few days.
Early in the trial, Sirhan testified that he had witnessed “brutal” acts by the Jews during the 1948 War of Independence and that this was why he hated the Senator and had decided to kill him for his support of Israel’s cause. However, fears that the defendant would use the witness chair throughout the whole trial for such statements proved unfounded.
Much of the arguments between defense and prosecution revolved around the question of the degree of Sirhan’s sanity. The jury obviously believed the prosecution argument that Sirhan was a liar who was using the pretext of “amnesia” to avoid a possible death sentence. However, Sirhan consistently upset his defense attorneys by denying he was mentally ill, and he told psychiatrists that he wanted to be a hero and a martyr in the eyes of the Arab world. He did contend, in his testimony, that he could not remember the actual shooting or that he had written in a notebook that he intended to kill the Senator because Mr. Kennedy had promised to send 50 Phantom jet fighter-bombers to Israel if he was elected President. In a trial in which Sirhan repeatedly clashed with both prosecution and defense attorneys, the youth displayed great agitation when the prosecution disclosed the content of the notebook. The Senator was killed in Los Angeles last June 5, the date marking the first anniversary of the beginning of the Six-Day War.