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Sirhan eight bullets 12 shots { June 7 1993 }

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And now, who shot R.F.K.?
(National Public Radio program examines assassination of Robert F. Kennedy, 25 years after his murder in Los Angeles, California)
Authors: Elson, John
Citation: Time, June 7, 1993
Abstract: William Klaber has produced and narrated 'The R.F.K. Tapes,' a 60-minute documentary that challenges accepted explanations of Sirhan Sirhan's shooting of Robert Kennedy. Klaber challenges the failures of the Los Angeles Police Dept investigation in 1968.


Full Text COPYRIGHT Time Inc. 1993

The images are still vivid 25 years later. The young Palestinian Sirhan Sirhan, gun blazing, moving toward Robert F. Kennedy in Los Angeles' Ambassador Hotel on June 5, 1968. The Senator lying in a pool of blood on the floor of the crowded hotel pantry. His ex-officio bodyguards, Olympic hero Rafer Johnson and former football star Roosevelt Grier, grabbing Sirhan. Shock -- and then grief for another American hero senselessly dead before his time.

At the time there seemed little doubt that Sirhan, who detested Kennedy's pro-Israel stance, was guilty as sin. He was there; he fired at Bobby. But over the years, investigators, including police and FBI agents, have challenged the official version of events. This week more than 160 stations of the National Public Radio network will air a 60-minute documentary, The RFK Tapes, which contends that the case against Sirhan is, or ought to be, far from closed. Producer-narrator William Klaber proposes that Sirhan was a brainwashed setup for the real killer. (One oft-cited suspect, who denies involvement: a part-time security guard named Thane Eugene Cesar.) And who had programmed Sirhan? In the tapes' most notable contribution to shadow history, Klaber points to Dr. William Bryan Jr., a California sex therapist (now dead) who had purportedly conducted hypnosis experiments for -- yes, you guessed it -- the CIA.

Klaber, a free-lance journalist who designs and builds houses in upstate New York, claims that his program is "the audio equivalent of the Rodney King video." Skeptical listeners may reasonably consider Sirhan's brainwashing by a sex doc rather less plausible than the jury's conclusion that the defendant acted alone. Still, the tapes make a strong case that both the murder investigation by the Los Angeles police department and the subsequent trial were badly botched and left too many questions unanswered.

Take the coroner's autopsy. Dr. Thomas Noguchi testified that Kennedy had been killed by a bullet fired no more than three inches from the back of his head. Sirhan, according to many witnesses, was at least three feet in front of the Senator when he shot all eight bullets from his .22-cal. pistol. What's more, FBI investigators found evidence -- from tiles and door jambs destroyed by the L.A.P.D. shortly after the trial -- that 12 or 13 bullets had been fired in the pantry. According to a weapons expert for the L.A.P.D., DeWayne Wolfer, the bullets that killed R.F.K. were unquestionably fired from Sirhan's gun. However, some experts believe that Wolfer did his forensic testing not with Sirhan's gun but with a different .22 cal. weapon -- which police also destroyed.

Then there was the matter of "the girl in the polka-dot dress." Several people remembered seeing her with Sirhan and another man at the hotel before the shooting. The RFK Tapes speculates that she was Sirhan's "baby-sitter," or control. The L.A.P.D., while purportedly trying to find the woman, tried harder to browbeat witnesses into changing their stories.

None of this potentially exonerating detail was fully explored in court. In what proved to be an astounding strategic misjudgment, Sirhan's chief attorney, Grant Cooper, did not challenge the prosecution's "facts." The defense relied entirely on a theory of impaired judgment, which the jury had no trouble rejecting. Sirhan's death sentence was subsequently reduced to life imprisonment, which he is serving at California State Prison in Corcoran.

Has America a fixation on assassination conspiracies? After all, the latest furor over who really killed J.F.K., inspired by Oliver Stone's movie, has only recently abated. There remain rabid challenges to official versions of the Martin Luther King and Malcolm X murders. To sociologist Amitai Etzioni, the fascination with these questions reflects a need to explain life's inexplicable dark side: Why did all these heroes die? That tendency is encouraged by America's individualism, which encourages an instinctive distrust of authority and officialdom.

Mark Blitz of the Hudson Institute, an Indianapolis-based think-tank, argues that the persistence of conspiracy theories reflects a collective sense of impotency -- people feeling powerless before blind forces they cannot control. In its most benign form, this near paranoia confines itself to Elvis spotting. At worst it leads to convictions that the Jews -- or reactionary capitalists, or unreconstructed communists -- secretly control the world.

To Klaber, suspicions about the Sirhan verdict are based on fact, not fancy, and others who have followed the case and its aftermath concur. Retired L.A.P.D. sergeant Paul Schraga, the first cop on the scene after the shooting, is convinced that right-wing zealots in his department's elite intelligence unit were involved in the assassination. "Conspiracy?" he says. "You bet your bottom dollar there was a conspiracy." Several celebrities, including Norman Mailer and historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr., have petitioned a Los Angeles County grand jury to review the L.A.P.D.'s investigation of the younger Kennedy's killing. Alas, considering how much evidence has disappeared, it is an open question whether such a probe would resolve old doubts -- or create new ones.

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