People v. Sirhan

Decision Date16 June 1972
Docket NumberCr. 14026
CourtCalifornia Supreme Court
Parties, 497 P.2d 1121 The PEOPLE, Plaintiff and Respondent, v. Sirhan Bishara SIRHAN, Defendant and Appellant. In Bank

George E. Shibley, Long Beach, Luke McKissack, Hollywood, Abdeen Jabara, Grant Cooper, Russell Parsons, Robert E. Mundy, Los Angeles, Martha Goldin, Godfrey Isaac, Beverly Hills, and Ernest L. Graves, Los Angeles, for defendant and appellant.

Evelle J. Younger, Atty. Gen., William E. James, Asst. Atty. Gen., and Ronald M. George, Deputy Atty. Gen., for plaintiff and respondent.

BURKE, Justice.

A jury found defendant guilty of first degree murder of Senator Robert Kennedy and fixed the penalty at death for that crime. The jury also found defendant guilty on five counts charging assault with a deadly weapon with intent to commit murder upon Paul Schrade, Irwin Stroll, William Weisel, Elizabeth Evans and Ira Goldstein respectively, and prison sentences were imposed on those counts. The court denied a motion for a new trial, and defendant's automatic appeal is now before us. (Pen.Code, § 1239, subd. (b).)

Defendant contends that (1) the death penalty is cruel or unusual punishment; (2) in view of proof of his diminished capacity the evidence is insufficient to support the first degree murder conviction; (3) he was denied a fair trial as a result of certain publicity; (4) his right to be secure against unreasonable searches and seizures and his privilege against self-incrimination were violated by the receipt of evidence found in his bedroom and in his yard; (5) other evidence was erroneously admitted; (6) his constitutional rights were violated by having the prosecution initiated by an indictment rather than an information; (7) the court erred in failing to hold an evidentiary hearing on whether the exclusion of veniremen opposed to the death penalty results in an unrepresentative jury on the issue of guilt or substantially increases the risk of conviction; and (8) the petit and grand juries were illegally selected. 1

People v. Anderson, 6 Cal.3d 628, 100 Cal.Rptr. 152, 493 P.2d 880, holds that the death penalty violates our state constitutional provision against cruel or unusual punishment (Cal.Const., art. I, § 6). The first of defendant's contentions thus is meritorious. We have concluded that the other contentions set forth above cannot be upheld and that the judgment should be modified to provide for life imprisonment and as so modified affirmed.

At the trial it was undisputed that defendant fired the shot that killed Senator Kennedy. The evidence also established conclusively that he shot the victims of the assault counts. The principal defense relied upon by defendant was that of diminished capacity. Extensive evidence was presented of the circumstances surrounding the shootings and of defendant's mental condition, which evidence may be summarized as follows:

About 8:30 p.m. on June 2, 1968, two days before defendant shot Senator Kennedy, the senator made a speech in the Coconut Grove at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles, following which he delivered a second speech outside the hotel. Defendant was seen at the hotel about 8:45 that night by an acquaintance. A half hour or less after the senator's second speech a hostess saw a man who looked like defendant in the kitchen near the Coconut Grove.

During the day on June 4, 1968, defendant practiced firing at a gun range for several hours and had also practiced shooting at ranges on several prior occasions. On June 4 he engaged in rapid fire with the .22 revolver he used a few hours later to kill Senator Kennedy. The revolver had been obtained by defendant in February 1968 when his brother Munir paid a fellow employee for it.

A person who talked with defendant at the gun range on June 4 testified that defendant stated he was 'going to go on a hunting trip with his gun,' that he told defendant it was not permissible to use pistols for hunting 'because of the accuracy,' and that defendant said, 'Well, I don't know about that. It could kill a dog.'

About 10 or 11 p.m. on June 4, 1968, a secretary whose duties included seeing that unauthorized persons were not near the Embassy Ballroom of the Ambassador Hotel, saw defendant near that room and asked him who he was, and he turned and walked toward the doors leading into the ballroom.

Shortly before midnight on the same day defendant asked hotel employees if Senator Kennedy was going to come through the pantry, and they told him that they did not know. One of the employees observed defendant for about a half hour in the pantry and noticed nothing unusual about his manner or activity.

About midnight on June 4, Senator Kennedy made a speech in the Embassy Ballroom announcing his victory as a Democratic candidate for president in the California primary. Following the speech he and his entourage proceeded toward the hotel's Colonial Room, which was then being used as a press room. En route the senator stopped in the pantry to shake hands with the kitchen staff. Suddenly defendant darted toward the senator, pulled out a revolver, and fired several shots. The senator and a man adjacent to him, Paul Schrade, fell. Pandemonium ensued.

A hotel employee grabbed defendant around the wrist of the hand holding the gun, but defendant, who was still able to move that hand, continued shooting. Irwin Stroll, William Weisel, Elizabeth Evans and Ira Goldstein were injured by the gunfire. Several persons joined in the struggle and succeeded in restraining defendant, and one took the gun from him. When asked, 'Why did you do it?,' defendant replied something to the effect 'I can explain.'

The senator was taken to a hospital where he underwent surgery. He subsequently died on June 6, 1968. According to the autopsy surgeon, the cause of death was a gunshot wound 'to the right mastoid' that penetrated the brain; the senator also received two additional gunshot wounds, one in an armpit and another slightly lower. Expert testimony indicated that the gun was an inch and a half or less from the senator's head when the fatal bullet was fired and in contact with him or within a few inches when the other wounds were inflicted.

Around the time that the senator was taken to the hospital the police arrived at the hotel and took custody of defendant. Two officers, defendant and Jesse Unruh got into a car and drove to the police station. En route the officers advised defendant of his constitutional rights. Subsequently Unruh asked defendant 'Why did you shoot him?' and defendant replied 'You think I am crazy? You think I will tell you so you can use it as evidence against me?' Unruh also heard defendant say 'I did it for my country.' Unruh believed that defendant was not intoxicated, and police officers who were with defendant at the time of his arrest or shortly thereafter reached the same conclusion.

About 12:45 a.m., minutes after defendant arrived at the police station, he was seen by Officer Jordan. The officer estimated that he was with defendant between four and five hours on this occasion. Jordan stated that defendant never appeared irrational and that in the officer's many years on the force defendant was 'one of the most alert and intelligent people I have ever attempted to interrogate.' Jordan initially identified himself and asked defendant his name but received no response. The officer then advised defendant of his constitutional rights, and defendant, after asking a few questions, indicated he wished to remain silent. Defendant, Jordan, and other officers subsequently discussed various matters other than the case. Tapes of the conversations were played to the jury.

The police found various items on defendant's person, including a newspaper article which in part noted that in a recent speech Senator Kennedy 'favored aid to Israel 'with arms if necessary' to meet the threat of the Soviets.'

A trash collector testified that on one occasion he told defendant he was going to vote for Kennedy in the primary election and that defendant replied 'What do you want to vote for that son-of-a-b for? Because I'm planning on shooting him.' On cross-examination the witness admitted that following the assassination when asked if he would testify he stated he 'would not want to take the oath because (he) hated Sirhan so much that (he) would do anything to see him convicted.'

The prosecution also introduced documents found by the police at defendant's home. The documents contain statements in defendant's handwriting regarding various matters including, inter alia, killing Senator Kennedy. 2

Defendant, testifying in his own behalf, admitted having shot Senator Kennedy, but claimed that he did not remember having done so. He conceded, however, that he stated 'I killed Robert Kennedy wilfully, premeditatively, with twenty years of malice aforethought.' (The context in which this statement was made is set forth later herein.) Defendant further testified that he 'must have,' or had no doubt that he, shot the victims of the assault counts.

Defendant's account of what transpired on June 4 and 5, was as follows: He intended to go to the races on June 4, but did not like the entries and decided to go target shooting instead. He took his revolver to a gun range, stopping en route to buy ammunition, and stayed at the range until about 5 p.m. He practiced shooting there but was not the person who engaged in rapid fire. He had gone to gun ranges on several prior occasions and practiced with the gun because he 'liked to' and 'was interested . . . in . . . target practicing perfection.' He first developed an interest in guns as a member of a high school cadet corps. He did not recall making a statement about killing a dog. He might have said 'it (apparently his gun) is strong enough to kill an animal,' but he did not have in mind killing Senator Kennedy. After leaving the range,...

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