At 12:50 a.m. PDT, Senator Robert F. Kennedy, a presidential candidate, is shot three times in a hail of gunfire in the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles. Five others were wounded. The senator had just completed a speech celebrating his victory in the California presidential primary. The shooter, Palestinian Sirhan Sirhan, had a smoking .22 revolver wrested from his grip and was promptly arrested. Kennedy, critically wounded, was rushed to the hospital, where he fought for his life for the next 24 hours. On the morning of June 6, he died. He was 42 years old. On June 8, Kennedy was buried at Arlington National Cemetery, also the final resting place of his assassinated older brother, President John F. Kennedy.
Robert Kennedy, born in Brookline, Massachusetts, in 1925, interrupted his studies at Harvard University to serve in the U.S. Navy during World War II. He was legal counsel for various Senate subcommittees during the 1950s and in 1960 served as the manager of his brother’s successful presidential campaign. Appointed attorney general by President Kennedy, he proved a vigorous member of the cabinet, zealously prosecuting cases relating to civil rights while closely advising the president on domestic and foreign issues. After Kennedy’s assassination in 1963, he joined President Lyndon B. Johnson’s administration but resigned in 1964 to run successfully in New York for a Senate seat. Known in Congress as an advocate of social reform and defender of the rights of minorities, he also voiced criticism of the war in Vietnam.
In 1968, he was urged by many of his supporters to run for president as an anti-war and socially progressive Democratic. Hesitant until he saw positive primary returns for fellow anti-war candidate Eugene McCarthy, he announced his candidacy for the Democratic presidential nomination on March 16, 1968. Fifteen days later, President Johnson announced that he would not seek reelection, and Vice President Hubert Humphrey became the key Democratic hopeful, with McCarthy and Kennedy trailing closely behind. Kennedy conducted an energetic campaign and on June 4, 1968, won a major victory in the California primary. He had won five out of six primaries and seemed a shoo-in for the Democratic nomination and, some thought, the presidency.
Shortly after midnight, he gave a victory speech to his supporters in the Ambassador Hotel and then, while making his way to a press conference by a side exit, was fatally wounded by Palestinian Sirhan Sirhan. Sirhan was arrested at the scene and indicted for first-degree murder. A mentally unstable drifter, his motives in killing Kennedy have never been clear. Some journalists have alleged that Sirhan was part of a larger assassination conspiracy, supposedly brought on by Kennedy’s promise to end the Vietnam War if elected president. These conspiracists cite forensic evidence and witness testimony that they say proves the existence of additional shooters who were not detained.
In 1969, Sirhan Sirhan was convicted and sentenced to die. In 1972, his death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment when the California Supreme Court abolished the death penalty. Since 1983, he has repeatedly been denied parole by prison officials who consider him a serious threat to public safety.