SIRHAN SIRHAN: I feel hated. I know that I’m infamous and hated. I understand the reasons for being hated but I really have no appreciation itself sir for being so.
ZAC STUART-PONTIER: This is Sirhan Sirhan’s first televised interview. It’s 1969, just after his conviction for the murder of Senator Robert F. Kennedy.
JACK PERKINS: You had never seen Senator Kennedy?
SIRHAN: No sir.
PERKINS: You knew about him?
SIRHAN: Yes sir I did and I loved him sir.
I thought he was the prince sir. He was the hope of all the poor people of this country sir. Minorities.
PERKINS: So when you heard Senator Kennedy on the radio was it? Talk about sending jet bombers to Israel-
SIRHAN: I didn’t hear-
PERKINS: You heard the report about it.
SIRHAN: I heard the report about it and it was unreal to me. I couldn’t picture Robert Kennedy wanting to do that.
ZAC: During Kennedy’s presidential campaign, he had pledged to support Israel by sending them jet bombers.
SIRHAN: He seemed like a villain to me, like a man who wants to kill, like a man who wants to throw those bombs on people, destroy. I couldn’t believe it.
ZAC: And Sirhan said that this betrayal was the reason he killed Kennedy.
PERKINS: Arab people in many Arab countries seem to consider you something of a hero.
PERKINS: A martyr. You think you have accomplished something? What?
SIRHAN: I think that the world sir should know that twenty years of suffering, deprivation, injustice for the Palestinian Arab people, sir, is enough.
PERKINS: You think your case has brought this to their attention?
SIRHAN: I think whatever little attention it has brought is worth it. My life and regrettably Mr. Kennedy’s.
ZAC: But this version of Sirhan, the political assassin, is very different from the confused quiet man he was in the weeks before his trial when he told a psychiatrist “my own conscience doesn’t agree with what I did.”
SIRHAN: My own conscience doesn’t agree with what I did.
SEYMOUR POLLACK: Your own conscience?
SIRHAN: My own conscience.
POLLACK: In what way?
SIRHAN: It’s against my upbringing, my very nature, Sir. My childhood, the family, the church, prayers, bibles, and all that, thou shall not kill, and what I’ve tried to conform to as far as the ethics of life or the moralities of life. And here I go and splatter this guy’s brains. It’s just not me.
ZAC: “...and here I go and splatter’s this guy’s brains. It’s just not me.”
So who was Sirhan Sirhan? Both his own lawyers and the prosecution agreed that he was the man who had shot Senator Robert Kennedy at the Ambassador Hotel on June 5th, 1968. No one, not even Sirhan’s lawyers, were asking questions about gun positioning or extra bullets in doorframes.
With the who what where and when of the case agreed upon by both sides, the only thing left to figure out was why.
I’m Zac Stuart-Pontier and you’re listening to the RFK Tapes.
ZAC: Hold on one second. This is it right here?
BILL KLABER: No, I think it’s the next one down.
ZAC: Bill and I are in Pasadena, California, on a quiet block of modest one-story houses.
MUNIR SIRHAN: Good morning, happy new year!
BILL: Good morning I’m Bill, Munir.
ZAC: This is the house where Sirhan Sirhan used to live. His younger brother Munir greets us at the door.
ZAC: I’m Zac.
MUNIR: Hi Zac, how’re you doing?
ZAC: Doing well.
ZAC: Munir is short, he’s in his 70’s, he wears dark glasses because he has problems with his eyes and he chain smokes American Spirits.
MUNIR: Makes yourselves at home. You want some coffee?
ZAC: The house is medium sized with a couple bedrooms, it feels just a bit too big for Munir, who now lives here all by himself. But when he starts listing off all his siblings who used to live here, it’s hard to imagine how they all fit.
MUNIR: There was the oldest down, I think Sadala, Sharif, Aida, Adele, Sirhan, and, six yeah.
All of the names in Arabic mean, in fact, all the names, they're all Biblically rooted.
ZAC: In 1944, Sirhan Sirhan was born into a large family in Jerusalem, then a part of Palestine. The Sirhans were devoutly Christian, especially their mother, Mary.
MUNIR: Mother was an avid believer in Christendom. She used to be a guide. There were a lot of nationalities that used to come to visit the holy places and then she used to tell 'em that this is where Christ did this, this is where he walked and she was a tourist guide.
ZAC: When Sirhan was a small child, A bloody civil war broke out as Israelis and Palestinians fought over territory. Jerusalem became a war zone.
MARY SIRHAN: He had a very very much experience of terrible type of war.
ZAC: Sirhan’s mother remembers that when he was a small child there was no escape.
MARY SIRHAN: He saw his own brother killed and war is hard enough for old people, how it is do you think with children? It makes marks in their minds, in their hearts and you can’t even, they can’t forget it.
MUNIR: You're walking from school to home or home to school or home to a store. You know you're always looking at the sky you're always listening for the air raid siren. The air raid sirens ran and all the women started screaming and the kids, they all started grabbing the kids and the screams and the hollers my God. That I remember.
ZAC: The Sirhans were forced to move to Jordanian-controlled East Jerusalem, becoming refugees for nearly a decade. Then through an American couple that Mary had met while working as a tour guide, the Sirhans got sponsored for relocation to the United States.
California Tourism Film: There is probably no single area holding as much charm and beauty and the good things of life as Southern California. Fine buildings, huge stores, busy citizens...
ZAC: The Sirhans’ began their new life in Pasadena, California.
MUNIR: When we first arrived here in California, Sirhan saw everybody was blonde. He turns and asks mother "Is our hair gonna turn blonde? I don't want blonde hair."
ZAC: Sirhan’s family didn’t have a lot of money and he struggled to fit in. In Middle School, he was embarrassed to heave to wear the same clothes for days in a row. In High School, it wasn’t easy for him to make friends. After graduation, he had trouble holding down a job.
ZAC: What was he into? What kind of stuff?
MUNIR: Horses. Reading. Languages. He liked to look at girls, you know he admired girls. And he would not avidly, not as avidly as mother, but he read the Bible.
ZAC: You mentioned that he was into horses. And he worked at a stable, right?
ZAC: In his early 20s, with his slight build and short stature, Sirhan thought that maybe he'd become a jockey. So, he moved to a nearby town with a horse track.
MUNIR: I understand from mother, I'd ask her where Sirhan is, she said he's working out in a town called Corona and he wants to become a jockey and he lives out there in a trailer. And I'd say let me know when he comes home, I miss him, I'd like to see him.
ZAC: One foggy morning in 1966 Sirhan was thrown from a horse. He suffered a head injury and was hospitalized.
MUNIR: And low and behold, the next time I saw him one side of his face was scarred up.
ZAC: Sirhan moved back home and Munir noticed a change.
MUNIR: He wanted to be by himself. It's kind of hard to put into words. He didn't want to be bothered, he was a little more irritable. But I didn't attribute that to anything except that he was in pain due to the fall. And later on we learned it may be other things.
ZAC: I was wondering if you could show us which room used to be Sirhan’s?
ZAC: Munir takes us to a small room at the back of the house.
MUNIR: This would have been it, here.
ZAC: Other than a few of Sirhan’s old books and his desk, there aren’t many traces of his former life here.
MUNIR: And he had a fish weight hanging from the light, in fact, it was so low it bumped my head.
ZAC: Munir gestures up to the ceiling and says that after Sirhan’s fall from the horse, he remembers coming in here to discover Sirhan doing some sort of strange experiment.
MUNIR: It was like, the old silver dollar sized, it was pretty heavy. So when it hit my head, I said "What's that?" And then he mentioned something about it's a Rosicrucians exercise.
ROSICRUCIAN ARCHIVAL: Broders and Soers, you may now open your eyes, we shall begin the last step in our method of attunement with the cosmic mind...
ZAC: The Rosicrucians, known as the Ancient Mystical Order Rosae Crucis are an occult order. Who believe that their members possess secret wisdom, handed down from ancient times.
Sirhan had been immersing himself in Rosicrucian teachings. He talked about it in that first tv interview.
SIRHAN: The candle experiment where you would concentrate on seeing the flame in the candle. And any color that you wanted it to become. You just look at the flame and think red for instance long enough and you will see a red flame. And then a green flame and then a yellow flame and then you get to the point where you see any color you want.
ROSICRUCIAN ARCHIVAL: Then both you and the flame have become one with the golden radius, the consciousness of the cosmos.
ZAC: Munir says Sirhan would also stare at his own reflection in the bathroom mirror for long periods of time.
The fish weight, the candle, the mirror. They were all various practices of self-hypnosis.
Then one day, Sirhan asked Munir for a favor.
ZAC: But at some point it became clear that he wanted to buy a gun?
MUNIR: Yeah yeah.
ZAC: And he asked you?
MUNIR: Yeah I didn't think and I didn't think anything of it. There wasn't a connection between guns and death in my mind at the time. I took them you know to be like a sporty sporty, more for sport than for committing crimes.
ZAC: Munir found a friend at work who would sell Sirhan a gun. So, in early 1968, Sirhan Sirhan became the owner of an 8-shot Iver Johnson Cadet .22 caliber revolver.
Munir didn’t think about that gun again until the morning of June 5th, 1968, when he arrived at his job as a security guard at Nash’s department store.
MUNIR: The employee lounge was full and the TV was blaring.
ARCHIVAL: Robert Kennedy was shot. The Senator is now undergoing brain surgery.
MUNIR: And when I looked at everybody they were all looking at the TV so I glanced over at the TV.
NEWS: This is the man who was apprehended at the scene immediately after Senator Kennedy was shot.
MUNIR: Lo and behold. Looks like my brother.
NEWS: He has refused to give any information about himself, even his identity.
MUNIR: I said no way
ARCHIVAL: Let’s see this fellow again, we’ve got that picture over there now. There he is, somebody must know him.
MUNIR: Yep, that’s Sirhan.
ZAC: Munir raced home to pick up his brother Adel and they drove to the police station.
MUNIR: Adel and I both initially went to the police station and said
I think the person they’re showing on TV I think is my brother who shot the Senator. That's that's how we verified the fact that it was Sirhan.
ARCHIVAL: The suspect, now being held by Los Angeles police in connection with the Kennedy shooting, is 24 year old Sirhan Bishara Sirhan.
MUNIR: Mother and I went to see him, you know the cell was so gloomy. We asked Sirhan, you know, what happened? What’s this all about? Tell us.
"I don't remember. I don’t remember." And then I asked him, he looked - it's like "You're asking me again? Why are you asking me again? I just answered you, I don't remember."
BILL: So he had no recollection of the murder.
MUNIR: No, no, no. Murder doesn't click right in my ears. The incident or what happened that night is a little - I don't believe Sirhan is capable of murder.
ZAC: Murder didn’t click right for Munir, but the cops were about to find something in Sirhan’s room that made it clear to them that murder had been on his mind.
ARCHIVAL: Police searched the premises this morning, found the notebook in the suspect’s room mentioning the quote “necessity to assassinate Senator Kennedy”
MAN: In which he iterated and reiterated, RFK must die RFK must be assassinated, assassinated, assassinated.
ZAC: Sirhan had written at the top of one page, "My determination to eliminate RFK is becoming more the more of an unshakable obsession."
Despite his claims of not remembering the crime, here in his own handwriting was evidence that he had been planning to murder Robert Kennedy.
POLLACK: Those writings, you will admit, don’t look good, do they?
SIRHAN: No, Sir, they don’t.
POLLACK: You realize that they definitely indicate that you wanted to kill Kennedy before he was killed. You realize that, don’t you?
SIRHAN: Yes, Sir. I do.
ZAC: These are tape recorded jailhouse sessions between Sirhan Sirhan and Dr. Seymour Pollack, a psychiatrist hired by the LA DA’s office to evaluate Sirhan’s sanity. They’re a little hard to hear, but as you’ll find out, they’re worth it.
POLLACK: Everybody has crazy ideas. I think that what you wrote in the diary, those are crazy ideas.
ZAC: Sirhan explains to Dr. Pollack that he doesn’t remember writing in his notebook.
POLLACK: Why don’t you remember writing these things? These things are part of your plan.
SIRHAN: It isn’t, Sir. It isn’t Sirhan. It is not Sirhan. It isn’t me I’m not a killer, sir.
ZAC: “It is not Sirhan. It isn’t me I’m not a killer, sir.”
He told Dr. Pollack that though he didn't remember writing the threatening words he did remember being angry at Kennedy.
SIRHAN: Hell, I was for him, Sir. See he failed me as a hero. As an idol/hero. I really went for him. He failed me, he betrayed me.
ZAC: He failed me, he betrayed me.
NEWS: Senator Kennedy, you had mentioned our commitment to Israel and many people think the middle east will be the next great powder keg and bring the next great confrontation between the east and west. Senator Kennedy, you this past week propose that we send 50 jet fighters.
ROBERT F. KENNEDY: Phantom jets.
NEWS: Phantom jets.
POLLACK: And you think that’s why you wrote down in the diary that Kennedy has to die?
SIRHAN: At the time I guess yeah.
ZAC: “At the time, I guess yeah.”
POLLACK: Why don’t you remember writing this? The thing that bothers me is you say you don’t remember any part of anything you’ve written there, not a single damn thing. That bothers me.
SIRHAN: Maybe I am crazy.
ZAC: “Maybe I am crazy.”
SIRHAN: Maybe I am. Maybe I don’t know it. That’s what I’m telling you. But really I can’t explain it.
ZAC: “I can’t explain it.”
Dr. Pollack gave up on trying to get Sirhan to remember writing about killing Kennedy in his notebook and began to explore the shooting itself.
POLLACK: The reason I’m interested in your remembering is that I’m hopeful that the more you remember, the more I can understand exactly what went on.
ZAC: That’s coming up after the break.
POLLACK: In my opinion Sirhan I don’t think you have any chance, I really don’t. I don’t. The jury listening will be negative rather than positive to you if you don’t remember.
ZAC: Dr. Seymour Pollack is sitting with Sirhan Sirhan in his jail cell. He’s has been hired by LA DA’s office to evaluate Sirhan’s sanity. Sirhan had said he didn’t remember shooting Kennedy. Dr. Pollack wanted to find out how much about that day he did remember.
POLLACK: Now, I don’t want you to fake, I don’t want you to make up anything. But I do know the more clear this whole thing is, the better defense you will have.
SIRHAN: It just doesn’t fit in when I look at it. There’s so many points that are unexplainable.
POLLACK: Such as what? Can you itemize the points that are unexplainable?
SIRHAN: My whole going to the range that day was unexplainable.
ZAC: “My whole going to the range that day was unexplainable.”
Sirhan tells Dr. Pollack that on June 4th, 1968, he signed in at gun range around 11:00 am. He was seen shooting there until the range closed around 5:00. Then he headed to Bob’s Big Boy, where he had a burger and coffee.
He then tells Dr. Pollack that he drifted downtown looking for something to do, and heard about a big party happening on Wilshire Blvd.
POLLACK: And now you remember walking down Wilshire Blvd and then you got to the Ambassador Hotel.
ZAC: Sirhan arrived at the Ambassador Hotel around 8 pm.
POLLACK: Were you drinking at that time?
SIRHAN: That’s where I bought my liquor.
POLLACK: That’s where you bought the liquor.
ZAC: Sirhan says he had a few cocktails and wandered around the hotel. He tried to talk to a hostess but she blew him off. So he decided to drive home.
POLLACK: Alright, do you remember walking back to your car?
SIRHAN: I remember getting into my car, I remember getting into my car.
POLLACK: You do remember getting into your car. Now what--
SIRHAN: I was gonna go home
POLLACK: Go home?
SIRHAN: Go home
POLLACK: Ok, so why didn’t you go home?
SIRHAN: I was drunk, Doc. I couldn’t get myself to drive that car.
ZAC: “I was drunk, Doc. I couldn’t get myself to drive that car.” Sirhan tells Dr. Pollack that to sober up, he went to look for coffee.
POLLACK: You wanted to get coffee? Now apparently you then picked up the gun and walked back from the car to the hotel because obviously he wasn’t killed with your finger.
POLLACK: But you have no recollection of picking up the gun?
SIRHAN: No, Sir, I don’t.
POLLACK: What do you remember when you got back and after you’d had some coffee?
SIRHAN: I was choking like a son of a bitch.
POLLACK: Choking? Choking on what?
SIRHAN: They grabbed my throat.
POLLACK: Oh you mean after the shooting.
POLLACK: I see. And you didn’t know that you had shot Kennedy?
SIRHAN: I didn’t know.
ZAC: “I didn’t know.”
POLLACK: You’re making a big to do about your not remembering as though your not remembering is going to mean something to the jury. It’s not going to mean a damn thing. What you did appears to be something that you knew what you were doing. Do you get my point?
ZAC: Dr. Pollack went over and over this and he couldn’t get Sirhan to fill in the gap between having coffee before Kennedy was shot and being choked by the crowd afterwards.
POLLACK: How could you carry a gun from your car back to the Ambassador and not know that you had it? How could you do that? Are you trying to tell me that you could carry a gun without knowing that you had it? What did you think it was in there? Applesauce?!
SIRHAN: I don’t know.
ZAC: Dr. Pollack had hit a dead end and while comparing notes with a psychiatrist hired by Sirhan’s defense team, he found that the defense psychiatrist had hit the same dead end too.
POLLACK: This is Doctor Pollack, February 1, 1969, with Sirhan Sirhan, interviewed by Dr. Diamond.
ZAC: The defense team’s chief psychiatrist was Dr. Bernard Diamond and he had an idea about how to unlock Sirhan’s memory.
BERNARD DIAMOND: Now, one two three four five.
ZAC: You heard a little bit of this tape in episode one.
DIAMOND: Try to go into a very light sleep. That's it.
ZAC: Dr. Diamond puts Sirhan into a hypnotic state and gives him a notebook and a pencil.
DIAMOND: Sirhan, can you hear me? Open your eyes. Start up at the top of the page. I want you to write about Kennedy.
ZAC: He writes, RFK must die, RFK must die. RFK must die. The same phrase that was scrawled over and over in that notebook found in his room.
DIAMOND: Sirhan, were you hypnotized when you wrote the notebook? He writes yes, yes, yes.
ZAC: Yes, yes, yes. Sirhan writes that he was hypnotized when he wrote his notebook.
DIAMOND: Who hypnotized you, Sirhan, when you wrote the notebook. Who hypnotized you? Write his name down.
A - M - O - R - C.
ZAC: A-M-O-R-C. Ancient Mystical Order Rosae Crucis.
POLLACK: That's the Rosicrucians, isn't it?
ROSICRUCIAN ARCHIVAL: Brothers and soers, you may now open your eyes. Every time you try the exercises, you further develop the various planes of your consciousness.
ZAC: Dr. Diamond and Dr. Pollack probe deeper and take Sirhan back to the night of the assassination.
DIAMOND: You’re at the Ambassador Hotel. You’re at the Kennedy reception Sirhan…
DIAMOND: Now, try to picture in your mind the scene. You're back - you had four Tom Collins. Remember that? You were guzzling that stuff like lemonade. and you went out to the car and you were too drunk to drive. Did you sleep?
You must have done something. You have to pick up the gun. Don't you remember picking up the gun? Alright, now let’s get unconfused. So now you picked up the gun. Where did you put the gun? In your pocket? Under your armpit? Where? Your waistband?
ZAC: Sirhan doesn’t respond.
DIAMOND: Alright. Now you're back at the party. You remember being back at the party?
DIAMOND: You remember you get coffee? Black coffee? Cream coffee? Sugar coffee? What?
SIRHAN: Coffee. Dark - big, big silver. Uh.
POLLACK: Alright, alright, a big, big silver urn.
DIAMOND: A big silver pot you mean? Of coffee? Does that -
SIRHAN: Yeah. A pot. [mumbling]
SIRHAN: It was dark.
DIAMOND: It was dark? But there was a lot of lights there.
RFK: My thanks to all of you and now it’s on to Chicago and let’s win there.
SIRHAN: I remember lying on the table. And I was resting.
SIRHAN: And then all of a sudden I was choked.
ARCHIVAL: Hold onto the guy. Hold him, hold him.
DIAMOND: Alright, you skipped something. You skipped a lot.
POLLACK: You were choked because something happened.
DIAMOND: Yeah. You skipped a lot Sirhan.
ZAC: Dr. Diamond tries again.
RFK: My thanks to all of you and now it’s on to Chicago and let’s win there.
DIAMOND: You're in the kitchen there. You're standing in the corner. Lots of people around. A lot of noise. And you see Kennedy coming. Now what do you see Sirhan?
SIRHAN: He's running at me.
DIAMOND: They're running at you - at you? Who's running at you? Open your eyes. Look at Kennedy. Sirhan, I order you to look at him. Open your eyes. Sirhan.
DIAMOND: Sirhan. Open your eyes, Sirhan. Look at Kennedy. Sirhan, look at him. You must remember. What do you see?
SIRHAN: [Breathes heavily] You son of a bitch.
DIAMOND: That son of a bitch? Well what - that son of a bitch is coming. What do you see?
SIRHAN: What's he doing here?
SIRHAN: What's he doing here?
DIAMOND: What's he doing here? Go on. You son of a bitch you said, Sirhan. What?
SIRHAN: He can't.
DIAMOND: He can't - he can't do what?
SIRHAN: He can't.
DIAMOND: He can't do what?
SIRHAN: Send the bombers.
DIAMOND: He can't send the bombers. You're not going to let him, are you Sirhan? Sirhan, did you know Kennedy was coming this way?
SIRHAN: [heavy breathing]
DIAMOND: Yes or no.
DIAMOND: No. But you see him now, he's coming, Sirhan. He's coming down the hall.
DIAMOND: Look at him, Sirhan. Open your eyes.
DIAMOND: Come on, look at him.
SIRHAN: You cocksucker.
DIAMOND: You cocksucker - yeah, go on.
SIRHAN: [heavy breathing] You can't - you can't. You can't. You can't.
DIAMOND: You're reaching for the gun Sirhan
SIRHAN: You can't. You can't. You can't.
DIAMOND: Are you going to stop him Sirhan? Are you going to stop him Sirhan?
SIRHAN: He can't.
DIAMOND: Look at Kennedy. Reach for your gun, Sirhan. It's your last chance, Sirhan. Reach for it, Sirhan. Reach for your gun. For the record, he is reaching spasmodically into the waistband of his pants on his left side.
You've got the gun in your hand now. Let me see you shoot the gun, Sirhan. Shoot the gun. His fingers are going through spasmodic movements like pulling a trigger. You're shooting Kennedy now, huh?
ROSICRUCIAN ARCHIVAL: Brothers and soers, such exercises of reaching into the cosmic and your own being, may bring fruitful results in a matter of seconds.
ARCHIVAL: Senator Kennedy - Senator Kennedy has been shot. Is that possible? Oh my god.
ROSICRUCIAN ARCHIVAL: If the cosmic attunement is accomplished, great illumination as inspiration and intuitive ideas will be your reward.
DIAMOND: Sirhan, open your eyes. Are they choking you, Sirhan?
DIAMOND: Alright, Sirhan, they're not really choking you. It's all right. Sirhan, they're not really choking you. Now, I'll count to three and you wake up.
POLLACK: But remember though - you understand, Sirhan?
DIAMOND: Sirhan, can you hear Dr. Pollack talking to you? Listen to Dr. Pollack.
POLLACK: You will remember all of these things. You will remember that - exactly what you did. Clearly. How you felt, how angry you were, what was going on. You will remember all of this.
DIAMOND: And you won't be worried. And you won't be frightened. We got a lot of bad feelings out of you. We're doctors, Sirhan, and we want to help you. We're Jews, Sirhan, but we want to help you. Now I'll count to three and you wake up. One, two, three. Wake up, Sirhan.
POLLACK: Wake up.
DIAMOND: Wake up, Sirhan. One, two, three. Open your eyes.
ZAC: Sirhan comes out of the trance. The first thing Sirhan asks is if the doctors think he’s crazy.
DIAMOND: Still what?
DIAMOND: No, we don’t think you’re crazy, Sirhan
Sirhan, do you remember what you told us?
Sirhan, to help you remember. Do you remember what you told us? Try - try to remember. It's cloudy, I know, but it will come back. You remember that - you son of a bitch?
Now, remember that.
POLLACK: Who's a son of a bitch? Hm? You don't remember Kennedy there?
DIAMOND: Concentrate. You can see Kennedy coming towards you, Sirhan. You see him? Kennedy is coming towards you and you - you said you son of a bitch. You were blind with anger, Sirhan. You see Kennedy coming now. You got the gun. Do you remember where you told us where the gun was?
SIRHAN: I don't remember.
ZAC: “I don’t remember.”
DIAMOND: Five minutes ago, Sirhan, you showed me where the gun was. Now point to me where the gun was. The gun was right here. Right there in your belt. And you reached for the gun. You showed us how you reached for the gun. Go ahead, reach for it.
SIRHAN: I didn't reach for my gun.
ZAC: “I didn’t reach for my gun.”
DIAMOND: Yes, yes. Your gun. You reached. You showed us how. You reached in there and you showed us how you pulled the trigger. Try to remember Sirhan. This is tough to remember.
SIRHAN: I don't -
DIAMOND: You’re not crazy, Sirhan. You’ve been very badly mixed up. It means you can’t remember things. But no one’s going to call you crazy, no one’s going to put you in a crazy house.
POLLACK: Is that what you wanted us to remember, Sirhan?
SIRHAN: I don’t give a damn what you think. I’m not- seriously, I’m not crazy.
ZAC: “I don’t give a damn what you think. Seriously, I’m not crazy.”
This hypnosis session and Sirhan’s inability to remember it, seemed to bring to light his greatest fear about himself, that he might be mentally ill.
But mental illness would also become his lawyers’ best and only defense of him the hypnosis session was proof enough to them that Sirhan had not been in his right mind when he shot Robert Kennedy, that he had done it in a state of “diminished capacity”. In essence, they planned to tell the world that there wasn’t much behind the assassination of Robert Kennedy other than a sick mind. When Sirhan learned this, he asked if he could plead guilty instead. The judge denied him.
Following the hypnosis session, Doctor Pollock meets with Sirhan alone in his cell three more times to finish his evaluation. In the last of these sessions, a reimagined Sirhan seems to emerge.
SIRHAN: See I didn’t shoot a man, Sir, I shot Kennedy. I told you that. For killing a human being I told you, I’d gladly go to the chamber. I’ll gladly go. But for killing Kennedy, Sir, I’m not guilty in no way.In no way do I feel any guilt about killing Kennedy because he’s just as much a killer as Hitler was. Everybody wants to have me have justice. Why don’t they catch him, sir, when he said he was going to give those 50 bombers to Israel? That’s mass murder right there you talking about. Is it because the Arabs are being murdered, that’s alright? Fuck em, that’s your philosophy in America.
ZAC: “Fuck em, that’s your philosophy in America.”
SIRHAN: Not with me, Sir, they are my people, Mr. Pollack, they are my people.
ZAC: “Not with me, Sir, they are my people, Mr. Pollack, they are my people.”
SIRHAN: I want you to tell that to the jury for me.
ZAC: “I want you to tell that to the jury for me.”
STOUT: The Arab Israeli situation is now a key issue in the trial. Today for the first time Sirhan Sirhan told his version of the murder of Robert Kennedy. He told it in a performance ranging from anger and defiance to a kind of calm humility. He cursed the late Senator by saying Kennedy had betrayed him by urging the sale of US jets to Israel. That was when he wrote in his notebooks about assassinating the senator.
ZAC: Doctor Pollock took the stand.
ARCHIVAL: The prosecution’s key witness, a psychiatrist from The University of California, said flatly today that Sirhan knew what he was doing when he shot Senator Kennedy. At no time, he said, could he find any evidence that Sirhan suffered from delusions, any break with reality...
ZAC: Dr. Pollack told the world that Sirhan Sirhan was not crazy.
ARCHIVAL: That he is not crazy or psychotic, though he admitted he was obsessed with hatred for Israel and hatred for Kennedy. At this time Sirhan was very pleased with Dr. Pollack’s testimony. He told one of his attorneys “See? He thinks I’m fine.”
ZAC: And then Dr. Pollack revealed one last surprising detail that had come out during his sessions with Sirhan.
POLLACK: I’d mention, there were people in the pantry who have not to my knowledge been to the present time, been completely identified.
ZAC: Under hypnosis, Sirhan had said someone was with him in the pantry.
DIAMOND: Start a new line, you don’t have to write it over and over again. Was anybody with you when you shot Kennedy?
ZAC: Yes. Yes. Yes.
DIAMOND: Write the name of the person who was with you when you shot Kennedy. Write the name of the other person who was with you. Write it down Sirhan.
The girl, the girl.
ZAC: The girl.
DIAMOND: Do you know the girl’s name? Write out the name of the girl.
ZAC: Next week. Bill and I go see about a girl.
Crimetown is Zac Stuart-Pontier and Marc Smerling.
The RFK Tapes is made in partnership with Cadence 13.
This episode was produced by Jesse Rudoy, with help from Bill Klaber, Ula Kulpa and Ryan Murdock. Our senior producer is Austin Mitchell.
Editing by Marc Smerling. Fact checking by Jennifer Blackman.
This episode was mixed, sound designed, and scored by Kenny Kusiak. Additional music by John Kusiak. Our title track is Maria Tambien by Khruangbin. Our credit track is Dr. Solution by Doran Danoff. Music supervision by Josh Kessler and Dylan Bostick at Heavy Duty Projects.
Archival footage courtesy of NBC News and Pacifica Radio Archives.
Archival research by Brennan Rees. Production assistance by Kevin Shepherd.
Our website is designed by Curt Courtenay.
Thanks to Jean Klaber, Emily Wiedemann, Greencard Pictures, Alessandro Santoro, Paul Schrade, Laurie Dusek, Munir Sirhan, and the team at Cadence 13.
For more information on the Robert Kennedy murder, pick up a copy of Bill’s book, Shadow Play, from St. Martin’s Press.
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