- Robert Kennedy was assassinated at the Ambassador Hotel, LA, on June 4, 1968
- Sirhan Sirhan, a Palestinian with Jordanian citizenship, was arrested at scene
- He was convicted of murder in 1969 and sentenced to death, commuted to life
- His lawyers never denied he fired the shot and instead argued he was insane
- Tim Tate and Brad Johnson spent decades investigating the assassination
- They claim in a new book he couldn’t have pulled the trigger and is innocent
In 1968, almost five years after the killing of President John F. Kennedy had stunned America, the hopes of Democrat voters were pinned on his idealistic younger brother.
At 42, Robert F. Kennedy was seeking nomination as Democrat presidential candidate. Yet no one realised that history was about to repeat itself in a brutal and shocking way.
6.30pm, Tuesday, June 4, 1968. Malibu, California
All day, Californians have been voting in a crucial primary. If Robert Kennedy wins, he’ll almost certainly get the Democratic nomination — then run for President against the Republicans‘ Richard Nixon.
Right now, Bobby — as everyone calls him — is setting off for his campaign HQ in downtown Los Angeles. Film director John Frankenheimer is at the wheel.
Bobby slumps exhausted in the passenger seat of his friend’s Rolls-Royce. For the past 80 days, he’s been criss-crossing America. In most places, he’s been greeted like a rock star, with people frantically trying to reach out and touch him.
The man currently in the White House, Lyndon B. Johnson, has seen the writing on the wall — he recently announced he won’t be running.
The allure of another President Kennedy, almost five years after the assassination of JFK, is just too strong.
Whether Bobby can beat Nixon is another matter. Not everyone approves of his determination to end racial inequality or his constant talk of radical change. In Washington DC, he’s clashed with everyone from the military establishment to the FBI and CIA.
Back on the freeway, Bobby suddenly realises that Frankenheimer is driving too fast. ‘Take it easy, John,’ he says. ‘Life’s too short.’
8.10pm, Los Angeles
Frankenheimer’s Rolls pulls into the Ambassador Hotel car park.
12am, Wednesday, June 5. Ambassador Hotel, LA
‘We want Bobby! We want Bobby!’ The Embassy Room ballroom is packed with 1,800 excited campaign workers and supporters. Everyone’s just heard that Kennedy won the primary. The mood is ecstatic.
Senator Robert Francis Kennedy enters the ballroom to wild cheering. He steps onto a makeshift platform, smiles and embarks on a victory speech, promising to heal a nation torn apart by economic injustice, racial inequality and the Vietnam War.
Kennedy concludes his speech by flashing a ‘V for victory’ sign with his right hand.
Flanked by his wife Ethel, who is pregnant with their 11th child, Kennedy leaves the speaker’s platform and makes his way into a narrow backstage corridor. Then he heads towards the double swing-doors of the Ambassador’s kitchen pantry, on his way to a press conference.
After shaking hands with two kitchen workers, Kennedy starts walking through the pantry. Karl Uecker, a member of the hotel staff, has a firm hold on his right wrist. A small, dark-haired young man climbs down from a mobile tray rack. Then he steps forward, raises his arm and fires a cheap, small-calibre revolver.
After the second shot, Uecker gets the man in a headlock and pins his arm down.
But the gunman continues firing wildly, emptying his revolver of all eight bullets.
Kennedy is now on the floor, lying on his back with his arms stretched wide. Five others have also been hit, though none of their injuries will be life-threatening.
A young kitchen worker kneels beside Kennedy, saying: ‘Come on, Senator, you can make it.’ Bill Barry, a former FBI agent working for Kennedy, punches the gunman twice in the face.
An audio recording captures voices shouting: ‘Christ no!’ . . . ‘Get away from the barrel, get away from the barrel, man!’
‘Is there a doctor?’ The first call for medical help is made from the lectern in the ballroom.
A radiologist is among the first to respond. Kneeling beside Kennedy, he notes his breathing is shallow and his right eye stares in a manner indicating possible brain damage. There’s a small entry wound behind his right ear. Ethel is allowed into the pantry. Her husband calls out her name several times.
As Kennedy is lifted onto a stretcher, he moans: ‘No, no, no.’ He is rushed out to an ambulance.
CBS and NBC TV broadcast live pictures of police officers bundling the suspected gunman through the hotel; moments later, they push him into a squad car. An angry crowd follows, yelling: ‘Kill the bastard, kill him!’ Inside, an officer asks the gunman why he shot Bobby. ‘I did it for my country,’ he replies.
Early hours, Good Samaritan hospital
Large crowds gather outside for a vigil. Inside, surgeons are battling to save Kennedy’s life.
7.25am, Central Jail
The gunman refuses to reveal his identity. As ‘John Doe’, he’s formally charged with six counts of assault with intent to commit murder.
9.35am, Pasadena police station
A man called Adel Sirhan arrives and says he thinks he recognises[sic] the gunman. Shown another photo, he positively identifies him as his brother, Sirhan Bishara Sirhan, 24.
10am, Good Samaritan hospital
Doctor James Poppen, a neurosurgeon and Kennedy family friend, has flown in from the East Coast. He examines Bobby Kennedy and realises immediately the brain damage is devastating and irreparable.
11.15am Sirhan’s home in Pasadena
Detectives find a cheap green wire-bound notebook in Sirhan’s bedroom. On one page, dated May 18, he’s written: ‘My determination to eliminate RFK is becoming more of an unstoppable obsession.’
Below that, he’s scribbled: ‘RFK must die. RFK must be killed. Robert F. Kennedy must be assassinated.’
1.44am, June 6, Good Samaritan hospital
More than 24 hours after the shooting, Robert Kennedy’s heart stops. The charge will be changed to murder.