Robert F. Kennedy was shot down just after midnight on
June 5, 1968, minutes after proclaiming victory in the California Democratic
presidential primary. His assassination had an enormous effect on the course of
American politics. The country lost a prominent critic of the Vietnam war and a
committed champion of civil rights: the Democratic party lost its strongest
presidential contender, enabling Republican candidate Richard Nixon to win the
November election. More than four-fifths of all Americans are convinced that
they haven't been told the truth about President John Kennedy's assassination.
Far fewer are aware that the investigation into Robert Kennedy's death was just
as flawed and corrupt.
Murder in Los Angeles
Bobby Kennedy (as he was almost always called) hadn't
planned to run for the democratic nomination in 1968. Many of his closest
political advisors encouraged him to wait until 1972, when he had a better
chance of winning. In 1968, Kennedy would be facing an incumbent president,
Lyndon Johnson, who was still popular in the polls-despite growing protest
against his escalation of the Vietnam War.
But then Eugene McCarthy, the other democratic
presidential contender, captured 42% of the vote in the March 12 New Hampshire
primary. That meant Johnson was vulnerable-and that Kennedy had a chance to win.
Kennedy's entry into the race on March 16 angered
Johnson and McCarthy supporters alike. But Kennedy was convinced that if Johnson
won, there'd be "more war, more troops [and] more killing"-and less
money for the domestic programs he'd so vigorously supported as Senator.
McCarthy opposed the war, but Kennedy wasn't convinced he could win the
presidency, even if he captured the nomination.
By the June 4 California primary, Johnson had dropped
out of the race and Hubert Humphrey, his vice-president, had announced his own
candidacy. Kennedy had won important victories in the Indiana, District of
Columbia and Nebraska primaries, but the nomination was still far from secure.
California would be a key test-whoever captured that state's 174 convention
delegates would have the best chance of becoming the party's presidential
Early California returns showed McCarthy ahead. But then
Kennedy pulled into the lead, and by late evening it was clear he'd taken the
state. To celebrate the victory and to hear Kennedy speak, a beyond-capacity
crowd of over 1800 supporters began to gather at the Ambassador Hotel in Los
Tired but jubilant, Robert Kennedy stepped to the podium
in the hotel ballroom and stood looking out over the sea of straw hats, balloons
and smiling faces. He addressed the crowd with the same message of hope that had
characterized his campaign. Lamenting the "division, the violence [and] the
disenchantment" within America, he expressed confidence that "we can
start to work together. We are a great country, an unselfish country and a
compassionate country. I intend to make that my basis for running."
When the applause died down, Kennedy stepped off the
podium and started to move toward the crowd. But someone in his party steered
him in the opposite direction, toward the backstage exit. Earlier that day,
hotel personnel (at the request of Kennedy's aides) had decided to take the
Senator on a back route through the hotel's pantry area, to keep him away from
the frenzied crowd.
Hotel maitre d' Karl Uecker led Kennedy and more than a
dozen members of his entourage into a cramped corridor. Even there the crowd
couldn't be completely avoided; dozens of busboys, waiters and campaign workers
waited, hoping to get a close-up view. Kennedy smiled, nodded and stopped for an
occasional handshake as he moved down the corridor and into the pantry.
It was about 12:15 am. Uecker was still slightly ahead
of the Senator and to his right. Uniformed security guard Thane Cesar walked
slightly behind, also on Kennedy's right. (In 1968, presidential candidates
weren't given secret service protection, so the hotel had hired eight private
security guards. Kennedy had requested that the guards keep their distance, so
he wouldn't be surrounded by uniformed personnel.)
A young, dark-haired man began to approach Kennedy from
the front. He was smiling, and bystanders thought he wanted to shake the
Senator's hand. But the smile was betrayed by his words:
"Kennedy, you son of a bitch!"
High school student Lisa Urso saw the young man raise
the gun and begin to shoot. "I saw the flash [from the gun] and then I saw
the Senator .... He went forward, then moved backward...
Someone called an ambulance and the Senator was taken to Good Samaritan
Hospital. There a team of six surgeons labored to remove the bullet lodged in
his brain. But his injuries were too severe. At 1:44 pm the next day, Robert F.
Kennedy was pronounced dead.
An open-and-shut case
In 1968 it wasn't yet a federal crime to shoot a
presidential candidate, so the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) took charge
of the investigation into Kennedy's murder. With the FBI's assistance, they
spent the next fourteen months investigating the murder.
From the beginning, the LAPD claimed the assassination
was an open-and-shut case. Numerous witnesses had seen Sirhan Sirhan, the
24-year-old Palestinian immigrant who'd been apprehended at the crime scene,
fire at Kennedy. Sirhan himself admitted he must have shot the Senator (since so
many witnesses had seen him), even though he couldn't remember anything about
the evening from the time he'd had a cup of coffee with an attractive young
woman until after he'd emptied his gun and lay pinned to the pantry steam table.
Sirhan also seemed to have a clear motive. When he was
taken into custody, the police found in his pocket a newspaper clipping
criticizing RFK for opposing the Vietnam War while favoring military aid to
Israel. A background check revealed that as a young child in Palestine, Sirhan
had seen the bloodied bodies of Arabs bombed by the Israelis, and his own
brother was killed by an enemy truck as it veered to avoid sniper fire.
Authorities reasoned that those early experiences had left Sirhan embittered
against American politicians, like RFK, who supported Israel.
Even more incriminating was a notebook found in Sirhan's
bedroom at his mother's house, in the Los Angeles suburb of Pasadena. It
contained anti-American, procommunist sentiments, and two pages of scrawled,
repetitive references to killing RFK. The most damning of these read, "May
18 9:45 AM-68 My determination to eliminate RFK is becoming more the more [sic]
of an unshakable obsession ... RFK must die."
From the beginning, a handful of journalists and
citizens remained skeptical about the LAPD's conclusions. But when these critics
tried to substantiate their suspicions with data from police files, they met
massive resistance. The LAPD replied that the files were under lock-and-key,
accessible only to those law-enforcement officials with a "need to
know." The Los Angeles authorities even initiated legal proceedings against
some critics who questioned the official findings.
... the LAPD continued to resist for three more years-until letter campaigns and
media coverage made it politically inexpedient to keep the information secret
any longer. On April 19, 1988, the files were sent to the California State
Archives in Sacramento, where researchers could evaluate the evidence for
The files made it clear that the LAPD had engaged in a
massive cover-up, both during the original investigation and in the intervening
twenty years. They'd not only attempted to misconstrue or overlook data that
didn't support their lone-assassin view, but they'd actively destroyed evidence
that might suggest a conspiracy... Now it learned that:
* The results of the 1968 test firing of Sirhan's gun
* The test gun used for ballistics comparison and
identification was destroyed.
* Over 90% of the audiotaped witness testimony was lost
or destroyed. Of the 3470 interviews the LAPD conducted, only 301 were
preserved. Key testimony-like 29 witness accounts that suggested conspiracy-was
missing, while less important interviews-like that of Sirhan's Bible
* On August 21, 1968, less than two months after the
assassination, 2400 photographs from the original investigation were burned, in
the medical-waste incinerator at LA County General Hospital. The LAPD claimed
that the photos were duplicates, but there weren't any known logs or inventories
of photos that could verify that.
Moreover, Scott Enyart, an amateur photographer who'd
been taking pictures the night of the assassination and whose film had been
confiscated by police, has never been given back all his photos. His pictures,
the only ones that might have captured the actual shooting, weren't in the
But even with the limited data that remained, there was
still ample evidence to substantiate what critics had been saying all along-that
there was a conspiracy to kill RFK.
The evidence for such a conspiracy falls into three key
areas. First, it now appears clear that it was impossible for Sirhan to have
fired the bullets that killed Kennedy - which means there must have been a
second gunman. Second, an abundance of testimony by eye-witnesses suggests that
Sirhan had at least two accomplices. Third, Sirhan's political motive-his hatred
of RFK for supporting Israel-seems to be either a fabrication of the LAPD or a
motive planted by conspirators to divert suspicion 1 from a more sinister plot.
Evidence for a second gunman
... The autopsy revealed three gunshot wounds in Robert
Kennedy's body-one behind the right ear, a second near the right armpit and a
third 11/2 inches below the armpit wound. A fourth bullet missed his body but
pierced the right rear shoulder of his suit coat. All bullets entered from the
right rear, at fairly steep upward angles and in a slightly right-to-left
... although witnesses disagree on whether Sirhan shot at RFK while the Senator
was turned to his left shaking hands with busboy Juan Romero or whether the
handshake had finished and Kennedy was walking forward, all agree that Sirhan
approached Kennedy from the front and that the Senator never turned his back to
This is totally inconsistent with the autopsy evidence
that the shots came from the rear.
... it's never been shown that it was possible for Sirhan to have fired the
fatal shots at RFK. And if he didn't, there must have been a second gunman.
The LAPD's response to the question of extra bullets was to conduct a systematic
cover-up... they destroyed the ceiling tiles and
doorframe wood in 1969, as well as records of tests done on the door frames or
ceiling tiles. Then, when photos of this crucial area were released, they were
identified only by number but lacked captions or labeling. Since there's no
corresponding log to indicate what the numbers refer to, they aren't of much use
When the destruction of the evidence was revealed in
1975, the LAPD claimed that they'd destroyed the tiles and frame wood because
they were "too large to fit into a card file" (needless to say, so is
a lot of evidence). Daryl Gates, who at that point was assistant chief of
police, claimed that the destruction didn't matter because the tiles and frame
wood contained no bullets and therefore weren't evidence.
The DA's office attempted to dispel mounting public
suspicion by conducting what critics would dub "the great pantry
raid." Investigators descended upon the crime scene to conduct a meticulous
search for bullets and bullet holes. Ignoring the fact that the most relevant
holes (in the door jamb and ceiling tiles) had been removed and destroyed seven
years earlier, they concluded that the one supposedly surviving hole (which in
1968 had allegedly been labeled as a bullet hole) was in fact a nail hole. The
day after the raid, an official spokesman dramatically announced that "no
other bullets were found last night."
Don Schulman, a runner for KNXT-TV in Los Angeles, also reported seeing a gun
other than Sirhan's. He'd been standing behind Kennedy as he walked through the
pantry and had seen a security guard fire three times. Immediately after the
shooting, Schulman reported his story on the radio and insisted that Kennedy was
shot three times. Even though the early media reports and crime--scene witnesses
generally asserted that the Senator was hit only twice, Schulman stuck to his
story. The autopsy proved him right.
(In later law-enforcement interviews, when Schulman was
under pressure to be "absolutely positive" about what he saw, Schulman
stated that he didn't see the guard shoot Kennedy, as his first statement seemed
to imply. He did assert that he saw the guard fire three times and Kennedy hit
three times, but admitted he couldn't necessarily connect the two events.)
When the FBI followed up on Khaiber Khan's story (he was the Kennedy volunteer
who'd seen a blond woman at the Wilshire Boulevard headquarters three times
prior to the assassination), they found an interesting discrepancy.
Two other workers at the headquarters, Ellenor Severson
and Larry Strick, had seen Sirhan there (without a blond companion) at about
2:00 pin on June 2; they also asserted that Khan was present at that time.
Strick claimed he'd asked Sirhan if he needed help, and Sirhan had replied,
"I'm with him," pointing to Khan. Severson corroborated Strick's
story. But Khan claimed that he wasn't at headquarters at that time, that he
couldn't remember any such incident and that he'd never seen Sirhan before the
When the FBI and the LAPD began to pursue this angle of
the case, they found that Khan had an interesting history. According to their
files, he'd once been influential in the Iranian government and had later fled
to the US to escape the Shah. Lately he'd been working at the local Kennedy
headquarters, recruiting young volunteers for the campaign.
While this information on Khan's background was true, it
was incomplete. In a 1965 article in The Nation, Fred J. Cook revealed important
facets of Khan's life that never appeared in the official files. In 1944, at age
20, Khan joined British intelligence and ran an Iranian spy ring. After World
War II, he served as a liaison between the occupying allied forces in Iran and
several Iranian tribes, and was awarded an aristocratic title for his efforts.
Cook credited Khan with helping the CIA overthrow
Iranian Premier Mohammed Mossadegh in 1953. The coup rid the US of the
left-leaning premier who'd nationalized a British oil company and put a puppet
ruler, Shah Reza Pahiavi, in power.
According to Cook, Khan achieved great power in Iran,
until a falling out with the Shah sent him into exile in London. From there he
lived an opulent lifestyle, directing his spies to gather damaging evidence
about the Shah's finances. In 1963, he entered the US; shortly afterwards, he
was able to document the Shah's theft of US foreign aid and bring this to the
attention of Congress and the Johnson administration.
Although his public discrediting of the Shah infuriated
certain elements of the US State Department (which believed the Shah was an
essential pillar of US interests in the Persian Gull), it undoubtedly also had
the blessing, if not the backing, of some elements within government and
There's certainly evidence that Khan was doing something
that the British and US governments perceived as worthwhile. In London, two
Scotland Yard detectives provided security for him, and he drove a Rolls Royce
with Washington DC plates. Once in the US, the House of Representatives filed a
bill to grant him political and economic relief from the oppression of the
Given Khan's background, political connections and
wealth, it's highly unusual that he would choose to serve the Kennedy campaign
as a local volunteer. The timing of his volunteer work is also strange. Although
he claimed to have "personally spent considerable time" at Kennedy
headquarters, in reality he'd only worked there four days (June 1-4).
Of course, none of these oddities render Khan guilty of
anything. But the question remains why the investigating agencies simply ignored
Khan's background as a master of espionage... was it because Khan might alert
the LAPD to conspiratorial leads that they were determined not to pursue?
Who had a motive?
Who hated Bobby Kennedy enough to have him murdered? RFK
began to accrue enemies during his brother's presidency (when he served as
attorney general). Both Kennedys angered some of the most powerful individuals
or groups in America, including:
* the Mafia, who'd been the victim of the
administration's unprecedented crackdown on organized crime (RFK had actually
deported New Orleans Mafia boss Carlos Marcello)
* FBI director J. Edgar Hoover, who'd been forced by the
attorney general to go after the Mafia (Hoover had denied for years that
organized crime existed and preferred to concentrate on eliminating
* elements of the CIA, who'd participated in the 1961
attempt to overthrow Fidel Castro at the Bay of Pigs (the Kennedy brothers who
felt they'd been misled by the CIA about the strength of Castro's forces refused
to send air support when the invaders met powerful resistance; afterwards, JFK
fired CIA director Allen Dulles, and Bobby Kennedy took on a role in CIA policy
that was anathema to some of the most swashbuckling CIA veterans)
The old animosities only increased when RFK announced
his candidacy for the Democratic nomination. Both his old enemies and several
new ones had a lot to lose from an RFK presidency. That list included:
* ex-Teamsters boss Jimmy Hoffa, whom RFK, as attorney
general, had sent to prison for jury tampering (if RFK became president, Hoffa
would have had to serve his entire thirteen year sentence, but President Nixon
* right-wing and racist groups, like the Ku Klux Klan,
who feared RFK's strong commitment to civil rights
* Southern California ranchers who feared Kennedy's
support of César Chavez and the United Farm Workers Union-and who, according to
an FBI report, had once put out a $500,000 contract on RFK's life (if the union
leaders succeeded in organizing thousands of farm workers, the ranchers' profits
and power would plummet)
* hard-line cold warriors in the military and
intelligence community-even the defense industry-who saw that an RFK presidency
would create a complete reversal of US policy in Vietnam
With enemies like these, the pat explanation that Sirhan
Sirhan assassinated RFK for his support of Israel seems far less
persuasive-especially since RFK's Middle East stance differed very little from
the other candidates'. The individuals or groups mentioned above had much more
powerful reasons to keep RFK from becoming president in 1968.
Re-opening the case
The question is often asked: why bother to
re-investigate this case? It's been so long, why stir up painful memories?
There are at least three arguments for reinvestigation.
First, and most obviously, if Sirhan didn't kill RFK, his murderers should be
brought to justice.
Second, we need to understand the root causes of the
violence that threatens our democratic system. It's important to know whether
Robert Kennedy was killed because of a muddled young Palestinian with a
political grudge, or because powerful interests in America didn't want him to be
president. If the latter's the case, those powerful interests can strike again,
whenever they feel threatened.
Third, the LAPD's handling of the case must be reviewed,
because law enforcement agencies and officials must be accountable to the
public. The JFK and MLK assassinations have both been reviewed by organizations
beyond the local jurisdiction, but the RFK assassination case has never been.
Even if it's too late to bring RFK's murderers to justice, it will strengthen
American democracy to know the truth about. his murder. That truth can help
check the powerful interests who manipulate the American political process to
their own ends.
NINA RHODES HUGHES
RFK assassination witness tells
CNN: There was a second shooter
Martinez and Brad Johnson,
updated 9:40 AM EDT, Mon April 30,
Witness says Sirhan Sirhan was not the only
shooter in the pantry
Sirhan was the only person charged and
convicted in RFK assassination
Witness says FBI altered her
account of RFK shooting
Sirhan is serving a life sentence in the
(CNN) -- As a
federal court prepares to rule on a challenge to Sirhan Sirhan's conviction in
the Robert F. Kennedy assassination, a long overlooked witness to the murder is
telling her story: She heard two guns firing during the 1968 shooting and
authorities altered her account of the crime.
Nina Rhodes-Hughes wants the world
to know that, despite what history says, Sirhan was not the only gunman firing
shots when Kennedy was murdered a few feet away from her at a Los Angeles hotel.
"What has to come out is that there
was another shooter to my right," Rhodes-Hughes said in an exclusive interview
with CNN. "The truth has got to be told. No more cover-ups."
Her voice at times becoming
emotional, Rhodes-Hughes described for CNN various details of the assassination,
her long frustration with the official reporting of her account and her reasons
for speaking out: "I think to assist me in healing -- although you're never 100%
healed from that. But more important to bring justice."
FBI report on RFK 'devastating'
there a second RFK shooter?
wants release or retrial
New evidence: Pruszynski recording
"For me it's hopeful and sad that
it's only coming out now instead of before -- but at least now instead of
never," Rhodes-Hughes told CNN by
phone from her home near Vancouver, British Columbia.
Sirhan, the only person arrested,
tried and convicted in the shooting of Kennedy and five other people, is serving
a life sentence at Pleasant Valley State Prison in Coalinga, California.
The U.S. District Court in Los
Angeles is set to rule on a request by the 68-year-old Sirhan that he be
released, retried or granted a hearing on new evidence, including Rhodes-Hughes'
At his 1969 trial, Sirhan's original
defense team never contested the prosecution's case that Sirhan was the one and
only shooter in Kennedy's assassination. Sirhan testified at his trial that he
had killed Kennedy "with 20 years of malice aforethought," and he was convicted
and sentenced to death, which was reduced to life in prison in 1972.
After the trial, Sirhan recanted his
In the recent federal court filings,
state prosecutors led by
California Attorney General Kamala Harris argue that even if there
were a second gunman involved in the Kennedy shooting, Sirhan hasn't proven his
innocence and he's still guilty of murder under California's vicarious liability
Sirhan's new legal team disputes
Harris' assertion about that state statute.
Their current battle has prosecutors
and Sirhan's new
lawyers engaging directly the merits of new evidence -- as well as
witness recollections such as Rhodes-Hughes' account -- never argued before a
Prosecutors under the attorney
general are contending that Rhodes-Hughes heard no more than eight gunshots
during the assassination. In court papers filed in February, Harris and
prosecutors argue that Rhodes-Hughes was among several witnesses reporting "that
only eight shots were fired and that all these shots came from the same
Sirhan's lawyers are challenging
In a response also filed in federal
court in Los Angeles, the defense team led by
New York attorney William Pepper contends that the FBI misrepresented
Rhodes-Hughes' eyewitness account and that she actually had heard a total of 12
to 14 shots fired.
"She identified fifteen errors
including the FBI alteration which quoted her as hearing only eight shots, which
she explicitly denied was what she had told them," Sirhan's lawyers argued in
February, citing a previously published statement from Rhodes-Hughes.
In this NBC photo taken in 1965, TV actress Nina Roman, today known
as Nina Rhodes-Hughes, left, and her "Morning Star" co-star Elizabeth Perry,
right, meet Robert F. Kennedy at NBC's Burbank studios. Two and a half years
later, Rhodes-Hughes witnessed Kennedy's assassination.
The FBI and the California attorney
general's office both declined to comment to CNN on the controversy over
Rhodes-Hughes' witness account since the matter is now being reviewed by a
Rhodes-Hughes was a television
actress in 1968 who worked as a volunteer fundraiser for Kennedy's presidential
The FBI report indicates that
Rhodes-Hughes was indeed inside the kitchen service pantry of the Ambassador
Hotel during the crucial moments of the Kennedy shooting, but she contends the
bureau got details of her story wrong, including her assertions about the number
of shots fired and where the shots were fired from.
Rhodes-Hughes, now 78, tells CNN she
informed authorities in 1968 that the number of gunshots she counted in the
kitchen pantry exceeded eight -- which would have been more than the maximum
Sirhan could have fired -- and that some of the shots came from a location in
the pantry other than Sirhan's position.
Robert Kennedy was the most
seriously wounded of the six people shot inside the hotel pantry on June 5,
1968, only moments after the New York senator had claimed victory in
California's Democratic primary election. The presidential candidate died the
next day; the other victims survived.
The Los Angeles County coroner
determined that three bullets struck Kennedy's body and a fourth passed
harmlessly through his clothing. Police and prosecutors declared the four
bullets were among eight fired by Sirhan acting alone.
Rhodes-Hughes tells CNN the FBI's
eight-shot claim is "completely false." She says the bureau "twisted" things she
told two FBI agents when they interviewed her as an assassination witness in
1968, and she says Harris and her prosecutors are simply "parroting" the
"I never said eight shots. I never,
never said it," Rhodes-Hughes told CNN. "But if the attorney general is saying
it then she's going according to what the FBI chose to put into their report."
"There were more than eight shots,"
Rhodes-Hughes said by phone. She says that during the FBI interview in her Los
Angeles home, one month after the assassination, she told the agents that she'd
heard 12 to 14 shots. "There were at least 12, maybe 14. And I know there were
because I heard the rhythm in my head," Rhodes-Hughes said. She says she
believes senior FBI officials altered statements she made to the agents to
"conform with what they wanted the public to believe, period."
"When they say only eight shots, the
anger within me is so great that I practically -- I get very emotional because
it is so untrue. It is so untrue," she said.
Contacted by CNN for comment, Sirhan
lead attorney William Pepper called the alleged FBI alteration of Rhodes-Hughes'
story "deplorable" and "criminal" and said it "mirrors the experience of other
witnesses also mentioned more than eight shots
Law enforcement investigators have
always maintained that only eight shots were fired in the RFK assassination, all
of them by Sirhan. His small-caliber handgun could hold no more than eight
But released witness interview
summaries show at least four other people told authorities in 1968 that they
heard what could have been more than eight shots. The following four witness
accounts appear not in FBI reports but in Los Angeles Police Department
-- Jesse Unruh, who was speaker of
the California Assembly at the time, told police that he was within 20 to 30
feet behind Kennedy when suddenly he heard a "crackle" of what he initially
thought were exploding firecrackers. "I don't really quite remember how many
reports there were," Unruh told the LAPD. "It sounded to me like somewhere
between 5 and 10."
-- Frank Mankiewicz, who had been
Kennedy's campaign press secretary, told police that he was trying to catch up
to the senator when he suddenly heard sounds that also seemed to him to be "a
popping of firecrackers." When an LAPD detective asked Mankiewicz how many of
the sounds he'd heard, he answered: "It seemed to me I heard a lot. If indeed it
had turned out to have been firecrackers, I probably would have said 10. But I'm
sure it was less than that."
-- Estelyn Duffy LaHive, who had
been a Kennedy supporter, told police that she was standing just outside the
kitchen pantry's west entrance when the shooting erupted. "I thought I heard at
least about 10 shots," she told the LAPD.
-- Booker Griffin, another Kennedy
supporter, told police that he had just entered the pantry through its east
entrance and suddenly heard "two quick" shots followed by a slight pause and
then what "sounded like it could have been 10 or 12" additional shots.
An analysis of a recently uncovered
tape recording of the shooting detected at least 13 shot sounds erupting over a
period of less than six seconds. The audiotape was recorded at the Ambassador
Hotel by free-lance newspaper reporter Stanislaw Pruszynski and is the only
known soundtrack of the assassination.
Audio expert Philip Van Praag told
CNN that his analysis establishes the Pruszynski recording as authentic and the
13 sounds electronically detected on the recording as gunshots.
"The gunshots are established by
virtue of my computer analysis of waveform patterns, which clearly distinguishes
gunshots from other phenomena," he said in an e-mail. "This would include
phenomena that to human hearing are often perceived as exploding firecrackers,
popping camera flashbulbs or bursting balloons."
Van Praag's Pruszynski recording
findings are now a major point of controversy among new evidence being argued
between the two sides in the Sirhan federal court case. Harris contends that his
findings amount to an "interpretation or opinion" that is not universally
accepted by acoustic experts.
CNN initially reported on Van
Praag's audio analysis in 2008 and then with additional details in a BackStory
segment in 2009.
from two different locations
California prosecutors have argued
that witnesses heard shots coming from only one location, but Rhodes-Hughes
tells CNN that while the first two or three shots she heard came from Sirhan's
position several feet in front of her, she also heard gunshots "to my right
where Robert Kennedy was."
According to the autopsy report, the
coroner concluded that the senator's body and clothing were struck from behind,
at right rear, by four bullets fired at upward angles and at point-blank range.
Yet witnesses said Sirhan fired somewhat downward, almost horizontally, from
several feet in front of Kennedy, and witnesses did not report the senator's
back as ever being exposed to Sirhan or his gun.
In his analysis of the Pruszynski
sound recording, Philip Van Praag found that five of the gunshots captured in
the tape were fired opposite the direction of Sirhan's eight shots. Van Praag
also concluded that those five shots -- the third, fifth, eighth, 10th and 12th
gunshots within a 13-shot sequence -- displayed an acoustical "frequency
anomaly" indicating that the alleged second gun's make and model were different
from Sirhan's weapon.
meeting with Robert Kennedy
The path that eventually led Nina
Rhodes-Hughes to the Ambassador Hotel kitchen pantry began 2½ years earlier
during a chance meeting with Robert Kennedy at NBC-TV studios in Burbank,
California. She was being made up for her co-starring role in the daytime drama
"Morning Star" when Kennedy suddenly entered the makeup room. The actress was
starstruck. "I saw Robert Kennedy and everything else disappeared from view,"
she said. "There was an aura about him that was very captivating. He kind of
pulled you in. His eyes were very deep set and they were very blue. And when you
looked at him, you got very drawn in to him."
As Rhodes-Hughes remembers it, the
senator had arrived to pre-record an interview on "Meet the Press" and the two
discussed political issues while awaiting their separate TV appearances. "Here I
am, just an actress in a soap opera, and he took the time to have an in-depth
conversation with me," said Rhodes-Hughes, who was then known professionally by
her screen name Nina Roman.
As impressed as Rhodes-Hughes was
with Robert Kennedy, she says the senator indicated that he himself was
impressed with her ability to quickly memorize many pages of TV script. She says
he confided to her that he had no such talent himself but that his older
brother, the assassinated President John F. Kennedy, had possessed similar
"Our conversation basically was the
clincher for me," Rhodes-Hughes told CNN. "I said to him, 'You know, I have
followed your career in politics and I really believe in you and I love all the
things that you did -- and are trying to do, and propose to do -- and so if ever
you declare yourself a candidate for the presidency, I will work for you, heart
and soul.' And he smiled and said, 'Well, I don't know if that's going to
happen.' And he was very humble and very sweet."
Rhodes-Hughes says that later, in
the spring of 1968, shortly after Kennedy announced his candidacy for the
presidency, she helped form a campaign support group in Los Angeles called
"Young Professionals for Kennedy" and assisted in raising funds for the
California phase of the senator's White House bid.
Weeks later, as he claimed victory
in the California primary, addressing hundreds of supporters in the Ambassador
Hotel's Embassy Room shortly after midnight on June 5, Kennedy paid tribute to
the many volunteers, like Rhodes-Hughes, who had assisted his campaign.
Referring to his own role during his brother's successful run for the presidency
in 1960, Kennedy told them, "I was a campaign manager eight years ago. I know
what a difference that kind of an effort and that kind of a commitment makes."
keep Kennedy from heading to the pantry
For Rhodes-Hughes there was one more
commitment to keep. She had promised Kennedy aide Pierre Salinger that following
the candidate's victory speech she would try to meet the senator as he exited
the ballroom and usher him to a backstage area where Salinger had been keeping
abreast of the California primary returns. She says although she and another
campaign volunteer made sure to carefully position themselves to greet the
candidate, the opportunity never came. According to Rhodes-Hughes, shortly after
Kennedy completed his remarks in the Embassy Room, he was whisked away by others
down a corridor and toward the kitchen pantry while she scurried to catch up.
"No, no, that's the wrong way!"
Rhodes-Hughes tells CNN she shouted to the senator and his escorts as she chased
after them in an unsuccessful effort to turn them around. "It's this way! Come
back! You're going the wrong way!"
Sirhan almost face-to-face
Rhodes-Hughes says that after she
entered the kitchen pantry's west entrance, she could see Kennedy in left
profile, "greeting" well-wishers a few feet ahead of her. She says a moment
later she was looking at the back of the senator's head, as he continued onward,
when suddenly the first two or three shots were fired.
"I saw his left profile. And then,
very, very quickly, he was through greeting, and he turned and went into the
original direction that he was being ushered to," Rhodes-Hughes told CNN. "At
that point, I saw the back of his head and part of his shoulders and back."
"My eyes were totally on him, and
all of a sudden I started hearing popping sounds, which I thought at first were
flashbulbs from a camera," she said. It was Rhodes-Hughes' account of Kennedy's
movements in the pantry that Sirhan's lawyer Pepper focused on in particular
when CNN asked him to comment on Rhodes-Hughes' account of the shooting.
"This observation is vital," said
Pepper. "Her clear recollection of being some short distance behind the Senator
and seeing his left profile and then seeing him quickly turning so that the back
of his head was in her sight at the time the shooting began -- this reveals that
the Senator was almost directly facing Sirhan just before he took three shots,
from behind, in his back, and behind his right ear at powder burn range, making
it impossible for Sirhan to have been Robert Kennedy's shooter," the defense
attorney said in an e-mail to CNN. "It clearly evidences the existence of a
second gunman who fired from below and upward at the Senator."
Rhodes-Hughes says that while she
was behind Senator Kennedy, looking at the back of his head and hearing the
first two or three gunshots, Kennedy did not appear to be struck by bullets at
Still believing the first shots were
merely flashbulbs, she says she then took her eyes off the senator, while
turning leftward, and caught her first glimpse of Sirhan standing in front of
Kennedy and to the candidate's left.
She told CNN that the 5-foot-5-inch
tall Sirhan was propped up on a steam table, several feet ahead of her and
slightly to her own left. Rhodes-Hughes says part of her view of Sirhan was
obstructed and she could not see the gun in his hand but she says that, as soon
as she caught sight of Sirhan, she then heard more shots coming from somewhere
past her right side and near Kennedy. She told CNN that at that point she was
hearing "much more rapid fire" than she initially had heard.
In his recent analysis of the
Pruszynski recording, Philip Van Praag found that some of the tape's 13 captured
shot sounds were fired too rapidly, at intervals too close together, for all of
the gunshots in the pantry to have come from Sirhan's Iver Johnson revolver
Sirhan's lawyers report in their
federal court papers that gunshot echoes have been ruled out as the cause of the
Pruszynski recording's "double shots." Ricochets also are ruled out according to
Pasadena, California, forensic audio engineers who verified Van Praag's
Pruszynski findings for the 2007 Investigation Discovery Channel television
documentary "Conspiracy Test: The RFK Assassination."
killed him! They've killed him!'
Rhodes-Hughes told CNN she heard
gunshots coming from some place not far from her right side even while Sirhan
was being subdued several feet in front of her. "During all of that time, there
are shots coming to my right," she said. "People are falling around me. I see a
man sliding down a wall. Then I see Senator Kennedy lying on the floor on his
back, bleeding. And I remember screaming, 'Oh no! Oh, my God, no!' And the next
thing I know, I'm ducking but also in complete shock as to what's going on.
"And then I passed out," she said.
Rhodes-Hughes says that, moments
later, while she was regaining consciousness from having fainted to the floor,
she noticed that her dress was wet and that she was missing a belt and one of
her shoes. It was clear to her that she had been trampled, but she was unhurt.
She then looked across the room and
saw Kennedy once again, lying on the floor and bleeding, this time with his wife
Ethel kneeling and trying to comfort him. Rhodes-Hughes says the sight horrified
her, sending her screaming out of the pantry and back through the corridor,
where she was attended to by her then-husband, the late television producer
"I'm running out of the pantry and
I'm yelling, 'They've killed him! They've killed him! Oh, my God, he's dead!
They've killed him!'" Rhodes-Hughes told CNN. "Now, the reason I said, 'they' is
because I knew there was more than one shooter involved."
Little more than 25 hours later,
Kennedy was pronounced dead at Good Samaritan Hospital in Los Angeles.
Rhodes-Hughes describes the events
of early June 1968 as "the most iconoclastic experience" of her life.
"Although it was 44 years ago, I
will swear that this is exactly what happened. I remember it like it was almost
yesterday, because you don't forget something like that when it totally changes
your life forever," she said. "It took a great toll on me. For a while, even the
backfiring of a car would send me into tears."
Despite the fact her FBI interview
summary indicates Nina Rhodes-Hughes was inside the kitchen pantry during the
assassination, she was never called to testify at Sirhan's 1969 trial or at any
subsequent inquiry over the years. Rhodes-Hughes says she made a point of
telling two FBI agents in 1968 that she would be willing to make herself
available to appear as a witness anywhere at anytime and to testify "that there
were more shots."
"They never wrote that down," she
says of the FBI agents who conducted the interview in her Los Angeles home. She
also says that when the pair of agents departed following their visit, they
forgot to take along their attaché case and, minutes later, had to return to her
residence and retrieve it.
Rhodes-Hughes says that, in the
months following the June 5, 1968 assassination, she and some others who had
been at the Ambassador Hotel refused news media interviews so as to avoid
interfering with preparations for Sirhan's trial. It wasn't until the 1990s that
Rhodes-Hughes was asked whether she would ever be willing to testify under oath
-- an invitation coming not from a prosecutor or law enforcement official but
from author Philip H. Melanson, a chancellor professor of policy studies at the
University of Massachusetts Dartmouth.
At Melanson's request, Rhodes-Hughes
reviewed her 1968 FBI interview summary for the first time and found it
contained more than a dozen inaccuracies. She provided Melanson with a
statement, but the professor died some years later and Rhodes-Hughes once again
missed her opportunity to testify. Before his death, Melanson published
Rhodes-Hughes' statement in "Shadow Play," a book he co-authored with William
Klaber in 1997 and one of several Melanson wrote on the Robert Kennedy
Rhodes-Hughes recounted the Kennedy
shooting and her initial contact with Melanson in a 1992 interview on "Contact,"
a local TV program carried at the time in Vancouver by Rogers Cable.
Defense attorney William Pepper
calls Rhodes-Hughes' recollections "significant verification" of new
assassination evidence that the Sirhan legal team is currently presenting. "It
provides further verification of a dozen or more gunshots and mirrors the
experience of other witnesses which confirms the existence of the cover-up
efforts," he told CNN.
"Along with all of the other
evidence we have provided, one wonders why it has taken so long for this
innocent man to be set free, a new trial to be ordered or, at least, a full
investigatory hearing to be scheduled," Pepper said. "Nothing less than the
credibility and integrity of the American criminal justice system is at stake in
Sirhan Sirhan's current legal team
is doing something his original lawyers never did. They are asserting that
Sirhan did not shoot Kennedy.
Sirhan's original defenders had
decided at the outset that Sirhan was the lone shooter. Because Sirhan's initial
lawyers presented a diminished capacity case in 1969, they never pursued
available defenses. Evidentiary conflicts, and issues such as a possible second
gun, simply were not addressed at Sirhan's 1969 trial. Most of the original
prosecution's evidence was stipulated by the original defense team, which agreed
that Sirhan had killed the presidential candidate.
Nina Rhodes-Hughes opposes freedom
for Sirhan Sirhan, whom she regards as one of two gunmen firing shots inside the
Ambassador Hotel kitchen pantry. "To me, he was absolutely there," she said. "I
don't feel he should be exonerated."
Rhodes-Hughes insists the full truth
of Robert Kennedy's murder has been suppressed for decades, and says she hopes
that it will now finally come out and that the alleged second shooter will be
identified and brought to justice.
"There definitely was another
shooter," said Rhodes-Hughes. "The constant cover-ups, the constant lies -- this
has got to stop."
FINALLY; FROM A F KENNEDY FAMILY MEMBER
BELIEVES IN CONSPIRACY
What to make of RFK Jr’s conspiracy view of the JFK assassination
Robert F. Kennedy Jr. told the
crowd at the Winspear Opera House last night that he was letting us in on
something new — “nobody’s told this story before” — about his father and the JFK
Just what was new was hard to figure. Kennedy told so many stories that melted
together, about his father, his uncle, his family, his upbringing. You had the
feeling that moderator Charlie Rose was itching to gently touch that Dallas
touchstone of Nov. 22, 1963, and he finally got there nearly halfway into the
95-minute interview with Kennedy and his sister Rory.
(Updated) RFK Jr.s assassination narrative began with an anecdote about his dad
seeing New Orleans DA Jim Garrison’s photo on a newsstand and asking an aide if
there was anything to Garrison’s theories about the CIA, Cuba and Mafia in his
RFK Jr. said his dad was told that Garrison was on to something, but “the
specifics of Garrison’s investigation went on the wrong track, but he thought
there was a link …”
Kennedy said his dad put investigators on it. When they examined Jack Ruby and
Lee Harvey Oswald’s phone records, and they saw what was essentially “an
inventory of the Mafia leaders that they had been investigating for the past two
years” at the Justice Department.
KENNEDY: I think my father was fairly convinced at the end of that that there
had been involvement by somebody …
ROSE: Organized crime, Cubans …
KENNEDY: Or rogue CIA …
This was a strange way to tell the story. Garrison began his investigation into
the JFK killing in 1966, so that’s presumably when his picture would have been
on the newsstand, as per RFK Jr’s yarn. Yet other accounts — specifically David
Talbot’s in Brothers/The Hidden History of
the Kennedy Years — had RFK starting his investigation even before
Ruby killed Oswald.
immediately connects the plot to the secret war on Castro. He then tells family
this a couple days later at the White House. He starts using surrogates like
Walter Sheridan, a former FBI agent, to begin hotly pursuing every lead that he
can. When Jack Ruby shoots Oswald down on camera on national television, he
immediately has Sheridan looking into Ruby’s mafia connections, and within 24
hours of the shooting, Sheridan’s reporting back to him that he found evidence
that Ruby has been paid off in Chicago by associates of teamster leader Jimmy
Hoffa, who is, of course, Bobby’s great nemesis.
So, already they’re seeing this as a CIA-Mafia operation. I believe that they’re
seeing it as an operation that was masterminded within the government, but some
of the sleazier aspects were carried out by the mafia.
Was RFK Jr just oversimplifying things for the Dallas crowd and compressing the
timeline? Don’t know, but it seems like his father’s suspicions have been well
Kennedy said the media
basically accepted the Warren Report, because they were ready to move on. And
even the Church Commission’s review of CIA and mob ties in the 1970s, and its
criticism of the Warren report, didn’t re-ignite wide interest.
recent years, as documents have been declassified, new information dribbling out
has “fortified” doubts about the Warren report. But, Kennedy said, it has come
out only incrementally and hasn’t focused public attention. Speaking of
assassination researchers who have delved more deeply into new information,
Kennedy said, “The knee-jerk reaction by the news media has been to marginalize
or dismiss those people.”
Then came a 2008 book by pacifist and Catholic theologian James Douglass, JFK
and the Unspeakable.
“What Douglass has done is distill all that stuff, put it in a very
well-documented book, and come to his own conclusions,” Kennedy said. “I don’t
know if it’s right or not, but a lot of the evidence, at this point, anyway, is
very convincing, there was not a lone gunman.”
Rose steered away from the subject after about only six minutes, pushing for
stories about the Kennedy clan’s legendary competitiveness and other rollicking
Kennedy stuff. Darn.
Rory didn’t address the assassination at all. There was no discussion of why
JFK’s niece and nephew decided to come to Dallas — which we, after all, think is
a big deal — and what, if anything, that stirred in them.
there you have it, perhaps the senior voice of the eldest generation of Kennedy
offspring with a mild endorsement of one particular take on the JFK
And I’m left wondering what the “never been told before” information was. Or was
that just a casual and innocent hype of the yarn he was launching into?
what about Unspeakable and its
author Douglass, a former University of Hawaii religion professor and
anti-nuclear activist? The book makes the case, as others have done, that
Kennedy was trying to extricate the U.S. from Vietnam and other military
engagements and paid for it with his life.
his beautifully written and exhaustively researched treatment, Douglass lays out
the “motive” for Kennedy’s assassination. Simply, he traces a process of steady
conversion by Kennedy from his origins as a traditional Cold Warrior to his
determination to pull the world back from the edge of destruction.
Should the book receive wider attention, its delineation of the conspiracy
against Kennedy rather than his conversion to peacemaking will be the most
controversial aspect since it concludes with a minute examination of old and new
evidence that Kennedy was done in by his own security apparatus. That’s a
jarring thought, but Mr. Douglass is not the first to claim that something is
amiss between the government’’s official version of events as contained in the
Warren Commission Report and that of a host of witnesses who paint a picture of
Lee Harvey Oswald being manipulated as the perfect suspect.
The way Mr. Douglass’ “how” [sic] stacks up with other theories that point
toward the Mafia, the Russians, the Cubans or a combination of any or all of
those is unclear.
What is clear is that Mr. Douglass seems to have responsibly and painstakingly
plumbed the evidence of the Kennedy assassination from a new angle and raised
disturbing yet essential questions.
But the book got a rugged
review from Marquette University professor John McAdams, who
maintains a Kennedy assassination website. (The McAdams site is among the
“best sites” links on the well-regarded JFKFACTS. It’s billed there as the “best
anti-conspiracy Website. … You may disagree with his conclusions but, if so,
these are the arguments you have to refute.”)
What makes Douglass’s volume unique is that his argument is dressed up in
verbiage unfamiliar to JFK assassination buffs. Most authors of books on the
assassination attempt to cloak their political views, and pretend to arrive at
the truth about the assassination after a supposedly objective analysis of the
facts. Douglass wears his politics on his sleeve. … Self-styled activists like
Douglass have a long history of being opposed to the use of military power by
the United States, although they don’t seem to mind as much when military power
is used by America’s adversaries. …
Douglass’s key villain—the “Unspeakable” of his title—turns out to be the same
kind of opaque nemesis that Stone is fond of conjuring up. The best
identification Douglass can offer is “shadowy intelligence agencies using
intermediaries and scapegoats under the cover of ‘plausible deniability,’” and
even more vaguely, “an evil whose depth and deceit seemed to go beyond the
capacity of words to describe.”
How convenient: a culprit who is indescribable. In essence, though, Douglass’s
evil-doer is indistinguishable from that bogeyman of vulgar, atheistic, and
leftist radicals from the ‘60s: the “military-industrial complex,” except that
he adds to the stew the Central Intelligence Agency.
was surprised that so many people in the Winspear audience were that attuned to
conspiracy stuff, breaking into applause, when possible, at slams against the
Warren report. I don’t think it was most of the crowd, but there was an alert
contingent that was quick on the draw.
was a largely Boomer crowd, those of us who are ever-eager to recite “where we
were” that noon hour in 1963. I had figured the audience as essentially there to
feed a hunger for Kennedy lore and other reminiscences, not so much for dark
theories. Wrong again.
There was also eager clapping for liberal anti-corporate lines, like one slam
against the Koch brothers pouring millions into political campaigns (as if
Hollywood money doesn’t infuse the system) and for power coopting the political
process (something Joseph P. Kennedy Sr. had a knack for).
Charlie Rose tried to get bi-partisan at one point, inviting Kennedy to remark
on how Uncle Teddy reached across the aisle to work with President George W.
Bush. You have to figure Kennedy knows this is Bush’s hometown, but he didn’t
take the bait.
He launched into stories on Uncle Teddy all right, but there was nary a Bush
43 among them.
Overall, regardless of your politics, it was a stimulating program. For a few
minutes there, I thought I was back in Camelot. Good on the AT&T Performing Arts
Center for pulling it off.
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LOS ANGELES – Convicted assassin Sirhan Sirhan was manipulated by a seductive
girl in a mind control plot to shoot Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, and his bullets did
not kill the presidential candidate, lawyers for Sirhan said in new legal
The documents filed this week in federal court and obtained by The Associated
Press detail extensive interviews with Sirhan during the past three years, some
done while he was under hypnosis.
The papers point to a mysterious girl in a polka-dot dress as the controller who
led Sirhan to fire a gun in the pantry of the Ambassador Hotel. But the
documents suggest a second person shot and killed Kennedy while using Sirhan as
For the first time, Sirhan said under hypnosis that on a cue from the girl he
went into "range mode" believing he was at a firing range and seeing circles
with targets in front of his eyes.
thought that I was at the range more than I was actually shooting at any person,
Sirhan was quoted as saying during interviews with Daniel Brown, a Harvard
University professor and expert in trauma memory and hypnosis. He interviewed
Sirhan for 60 hours with and without hypnosis, according to the legal brief.
Sandi Gibbons, a spokeswoman for the Los Angeles County district attorney, said
prosecutors were unaware of the legal filing and could not comment.
The story of the girl has been a lingering theme in accounts of the events just
after midnight on June 5, 1968, when Kennedy was gunned down in the hotel pantry
after claiming victory in the California Democratic presidential primary.
Witnesses talked of seeing such a female running from the hotel shouting, "We
shot Kennedy." But she was never identified, and amid the chaos of the scene,
descriptions were conflicting.
Through the years, Sirhan has claimed no memory of shooting Kennedy and said in
the recent interviews that his presence at the hotel was an accident, not a
Under hypnosis, he remembered meeting the girl that night and becoming smitten
with her. He said she led him to the pantry.
am trying to figure out how to hit on her.... That's all that I can think
about," he says in one interview cited in the documents. "I was fascinated with
her looks .... She never said much. It was very erotic. I was consumed by her.
She was a seductress with an unspoken unavailability."
Brown was hired by Sirhan's lawyer William F. Pepper.
Pepper's associate, attorney Laurie Dusek, attended the interviews. and Brown
said in the documents they both took verbatim notes because prison officials
would not let them tape record nearly all the sessions.
Sirhan maintained in the hypnotic interviews that the mystery girl touched him
or "pinched" him on the shoulder just before he fired then spun him around to
see people coming through the pantry door.
"Then I was on the target range ... a flashback to the shooting range ... I
didn't know that I had a gun," Sirhan said.
Under what Brown called the condition of hypnotic free recall, he said Sirhan
remembered seeing the flash of a second gun at the time of the assassination.
Without hypnosis, he said, Sirhan could not remember that shot.
The lawyer said he is convinced that Sirhan was a victim of a mind control
project such as those used by the CIA in the 1960s. He is seeking an evidentiary
hearing to exonerate Sirhan in Kennedy's killing.
Dusek said in an interview that Sirhan was hypnotized for perhaps 30 percent of
the interviews, most of which had to be done through a glass partition with
Brown talking to him on a phone.
Only when Sirhan was moved from the state prison at Corcoran to his current
location at Pleasant Valley State Prison in Coalinga were they allowed
face-to-face visits, she said, and a few of those were recorded.
Other portions of the motion allege suppression of ballistics evidence and the
autopsy report, and claim ineffective assistance of counsel. It contends
previous lawyers for Sirhan accepted from the start that he was the lone
shooter, settled on a defense of diminished capacity and did not seek other
avenues of defense.
During the trial, Sirhan tried to confess to killing Kennedy "with 20 years of
malice aforethought," but the judge rejected the blurted statement.
large portion of the new documents seek to prove the bullets that hit Kennedy
came from a different direction than the spot where Sirhan was standing. The
papers do not name any other possible shooter.
Sirhan was denied parole in March by a panel that said he had not shown
sufficient remorse for the killing.