Return to Part Seven
8. Confronting Sirhan
Copyright © 2000 by Dan E. Moldea
On Sunday, June 5, 1994--the 26th anniversary of the shooting of Senator Kennedy--Adel Sirhan and I drove to Corcoran for what would be my third and final interview with Sirhan Sirhan. During the trip, I told Adel that I planned to get rough with his brother during this session. Adel simply shrugged and told me to "go for it."
Go for it, I did--even though Sirhan insisted that he had no memory of writing the "Hey Punk" letter to Grant Cooper and flatly denied ever saying to Mike McCowan that he recalled when his eyes met Kennedy's just before he shot him. However, the climax of the interview began as I asked Sirhan, yet again, whether he had confederates.
"Were you a participant in a conspiracy?" I asked.
Sirhan replied, "Do you think I would conceal anything about someone else's involvement and face the gas chamber in the most literal sense? I have no knowledge of a conspiracy."
"But, yes or no, were you part of a conspiracy, Sirhan?"
"I wish there had been a conspiracy. It would have unraveled before now."
"Then, why do you even talk about the possibility of being mind-controlled?"
"My defense attorneys developed the idea of The Manchurian Candidate theory."
"Then, once again, why don't you just accept responsibility for this crime?"
"If I was to accept responsibility for this crime, it would be a hell of a burden to live with--having taken a human life without knowing it."
"Then you are saying that you are willing to take responsibility, but you have no memory of committing the crime?"
"It's not in my mind, but I'm not denying it. I must have been there, but I can't reconstruct it mentally. I mean no disrespect here, but I empathize with Senator Ted Kennedy in the Chappaquiddick incident. He was supposedly under the influence of alcohol and couldn't remember what he had done. When he finally did realize what had happened, someone was dead."
"Why did you take credit for the murder at your trial?"
"Grant Cooper [Sirhan's attorney] conned me to say that I killed Robert Kennedy. I went along with him because he had my life in his hands. I was duped into believing that he had my best interests in mind. It was a futile defense. Cooper sold me out. Charles Manson once told me that defense attorneys treat their clients like kings before their trials. After the trials begin, they treat their clients like shit. This was true of the manner in which Grant Cooper treated me. I remember Cooper once told me, 'You're getting the best, and you're not paying anything. Just shut up. I'm the lawyer, and you're just the client.'"
Distracted for a moment, trying to picture the scene of a conversation between Sirhan and Manson, I continued, "You were willing to go to the gas chamber for a crime you didn't remember committing?"
"I did a lot of self-exploration while I was on death row. It changed my whole vision of the world. I was trying to justify that I was going to the gas chamber. I wanted to search myself to find the truth, but I could never figure it out. I had nothing to lose."
"Did you ever examine whether you had acted with premeditation?"
"When I got to death row, I started reading the law about diminished capacity and the requirements for premeditation. There was no way that I could have summoned the prerequisite for first-degree murder. That was no part of me. They said that I didn't understand the magnitude of what I had done. They're right. I don't truly appreciate it, because I have no awareness of having aimed the gun at Bobby Kennedy."
"Why did you admit to the murder before the parole board?"
"They want the prisoner to admit his guilt and take responsibility for the crime. They want us to confess and to express remorse, which is what I have done. In fact, I have been told that I won't be paroled because of the Kennedys."
"So, once again, you were willing to take credit for the crime without remembering that you had committed it?"
Suddenly, Sirhan became overwrought, exclaiming, "It's so damn painful! I want to expunge all of this from my mind!"
At that exact moment, as these words tumbled out of Sirhan's mouth, I suddenly realized that Sirhan had been lying to me and everyone else all along. In response, I stated firmly, "I am not a court of law; I am not a parole board. I'm a reporter who doesn't want to be wrong. I want to know, Sirhan: Did you commit this crime?"
Sirhan fired right back, "I would not want to take the blame for this crime as long as there is exculpatory evidence that I didn't do the crime. The jury was never given the opportunity to pass judgment on the evidence discovered since the trial, as well as the inconsistencies of the firearms evidence [the bullet evidence] at the trial. In view of this, no, I didn't get a fair trial."
With that reply, I finally began to understand Sirhan's entire strategy: As long as people, like me, continued to put forth supposed new evidence, he still had a chance to experience freedom. And, more than any other person in recent years, I had been keeping this case alive with all of my supposed new revelations about alleged extra bullets and the possibility that at least two guns that had been fired at the crime scene.
As I sat there, I became furious with myself for nearly being hoodwinked by Sirhan and the circumstances of this entire case. I didn't even attempt to conceal my feelings.
With Adel still present, I barked angrily at Sirhan, "You don't remember writing in your notebooks in which you articulated your determination to kill Robert Kennedy and why--That's motive! You don't remember getting your gun when you returned to your car from the Rafferty party--That's means! You don't remember having been in the pantry, getting close to Kennedy, and firing your gun--That's opportunity!
"Every time you have a memory lapse, it goes to motive, means, or opportunity!"
In response, Sirhan sat quietly, saying nothing but looking puzzled, probably wondering where I was going with all of this. But I could tell that he wasn't very concerned. He knew, probably more than anyone else, that I had nearly bet my professional reputation on the second-gun theory. "What's Moldea going to do now that he's in so deep," Sirhan must have thought, "turn around now and say that I acted alone?"
Knowing how close Sirhan was to his ailing mother, who, besides Adel, had been his most ardent defender--and understanding how much pain Sirhan knew he had inflicted on her--I asked him, "Sirhan, when your mother dies, God forbid, are you going to remember everything and come clean?"
Now furious with me for having brought his mother into this, Sirhan exclaimed, raising his voice with each syllable, "Change my story? Mr. Moldea, you're a motherfucker! Mr. Moldea, you're a fucking asshole!"
I smiled at Sirhan and started jabbing my finger in his face. "Sirhan, it's 'Dan, you're a motherfucker. Dan, you're a fucking asshole.'" As I started to laugh out loud, Sirhan paused for a moment and started laughing, too, breaking a very tense moment.
As I would later write in my manuscript, "But he wasn't laughing for the same reason I was: I had just wanted Sirhan to remember the first name of his last hope."
After this bitter third and final interview, fully aware that I did not have Sirhan on tape and fearing that he might deny what I had written in my notes, I sent Sirhan a letter on July 2, saying:Thank you for meeting with me again. As always, I appreciated your candid remarks--even when I got rough with you, especially on June 5th. As you know, that's my job; I did the same thing with the LAPD and particularly with Gene Cesar.Predictably, Sirhan, who was extremely angry with me after our final interview, did not responded by the July 31 deadline--which technically indicated his approval of the "transcript.". But I still could foresee a problem in which my book came out, and Sirhan--who was, up to that point, still unaware of my final conclusions--would retaliate by denying the quotes I had attributed to him.
Here is the composite made from my notes of our three interviews--on September 26 and October 10, 1993; and June 5, 1994. . . . I wanted you to have the opportunity to amend or to expand upon anything else you read. I still would like to memorialize an interview with you either on video or audio tape. I have received permission from the prison to do this, if you are willing.
Also, as I told you on the 5th, I would like to arrange a polygraph for you, concentrating on what you do and do not remember. You rejected that idea then, but I am asking you to reconsider.
I don't know what the situation is with prison correspondence, so if I don't hear from you by July 31, I will assume that everything is fine, as written. Of course, you may always call me collect to give me your comments.
Please keep this correspondence as your written record of our interviews.
To neutralize this scenario, I returned to Los Angeles and met with Adel Sirhan, the only witness to all three of my interviews with his brother. I provided him with a copy of the "transcript" and asked for his approval, which he gave me with only minor corrections.
Then, as I came down the wire to deliver my finished manuscript to my publisher, I finally located Michael McCowan, the one-time investigator for Sirhan's defense team. During our conversation, McCowan confirmed--and, at my request, signed a statement, attesting to--the story I had earlier heard from Bob Kaiser.
Specifically, McCowan revealed, during one of his interviews with Sirhan, the assassin described the exact moment when his eyes met Kennedy's just before he shot him. Shocked by what Sirhan had just confessed--in view of his previous insistence that he had no recollection of firing his gun at the crime scene--McCowan asked, "Then why, Sirhan, didn't you shoot him between the eyes?"
With no hesitation and no apparent remorse, Sirhan simply replied, "Because that son of a bitch turned his head at the last second."
Completing my manuscript, I concluded:Gene Cesar [is] an innocent man who since 1969 has been wrongly accused of being involved in the murder of Senator Kennedy. . . . Sirhan Bishara Sirhan consciously and knowingly murdered Senator Robert Kennedy, and he acted alone.
Return to Part Seven