Authorities Offer Evidence in RFK Assassination
SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) _ More than 2,400 photographs from the assassination of Robert Kennedy were unaccountably destroyed nearly 20 years ago, officials said Tuesday as they opened to the public for the first time the long-secret police files.
There was no explanation in the 50,000 pages of documents why the pictures were burned or why such items as ceiling tiles and door jambs from the scene of Kennedy’s death were destroyed in the months following the assassination.
California Secretary of State March Fong Eu released the documents, including interviews with 4,000 witnesses and 2,500 photographs from the Los Angeles Police Department files.
The state’s chief archivist said the documents were unlikely to answer the numerous questions surrounding the 1968 assassination because of the destroyed material.
″I’ve never seen a file quite this large,″ said archivist John Burns. ″This is a very unusual murder file (but) I’m not absolutely satisfied that any questions are answered.″
He said the biggest surprise was the amount of evidence destroyed, including the photographs, which were burned three months after the assassintation. Their subjects are unknown.
″What I didn’t know, and I’m told others didn’t know, was that so much evidence was destroyed,″ he said.
He also said he could not explain why evidence was destroyed, noting police were careful at the outset because they didn’t want ″another Dallas,″ where Kennedy’s brother, President John F. Kennedy, was killed.
Burns said he had not had time to examine all the evidence, which he predicted will occupy researchers for years.
The gaps in the material drew immediate criticism.
″Someone should ask the police why they destroyed 2,400 photographs in the most important case they’ve ever examined. ... We didn’t know about that until today,″ said Gregory Stone, a political scientist at the University of Wisconsin and a longtime student of the case.
Among the persistent questions raised by conspiracy theorists and scholars are: Was Sirhan Bishara Sirhan the only gunman? Was Kennedy shot from in front or behind? Were there eight shots or more in the pantry of the Ambassador Hotel? And how close was the gunman whose bullet entered Kennedy’s brain?
Among the material put on display Tuesday was a polka dot dress, bullets taken from victims and Sirhan’s diary entry saying ″RFK must die.″
The dress was one of many purchased by police in an effort to jog the memories of witnesses on a point of contention - that a girl in a polka dot dress seen running from the Ambassador Hotel shouting ″We shot him.″ That report was never verified.
The documents released include an admission by police that they destroyed key evidence, including ceiling tiles, a door jamb and thousands of photographs taken in the Ambassador Hotel kitchen where Kennedy was shot on June 5, 1968.
An official record in the evidence showed that 2,410 photographs were burned on Aug. 21, 1968. It gives no reason.
Also released was the police tape recording of a call reporting the shooting. The caller did not immediately know who was shot but told the officer who answered that Kennedy was in the hotel, to which the unidentified officer replied: ″Big deal.″ When told seconds later that Kennedy had been shot, the unidentified officer asked for the address of one of the biggest hotels in Los Angeles.
Extensive videotape and audio recordings graphically depict the confusion at the scene. The videotape shows a fatally wounded Kennedy, who moments before had declared victory in California’s Democratic presidential primary, lying on the floor, while witnesses and other victims appear dazed. The shooting shooting occurred prior to Secret Service protection for presidential candidates.
One entire case of evidence contained items from Sirhan’s Pasadena home, including the diary in which Sirhan scrawled in pencil his plans to kill the New York senator.
″My determination to eliminate RFK is becoming more the more of an unshakeable obsession,″ he wrote. ″RFK must die.″
On the eve of the release of the files, Sirhan’s attorney, Luke McKissack, said Sirhan expects nothing to contradict his frequently stated claim that he was a lone gunman.
Witnesses told of seeing Sirhan step from behind a steam table into Kennedy’s path as the senator walked toward him. But Los Angeles County Coroner Thomas Noguchi testified at Sirhan’s 1969 trial that Kennedy was killed by a shot fired behind his right ear.
Conspiracy theorists suggested that a second gunman fired at Kennedy from behind while Sirhan stood in front.
McKissack said that although Sirhan maintains he doesn’t remember shooting Kennedy, Sirhan, a Jordanian immigrant, believes he was motivated by anger over the Arab loss in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war. He blames his memory loss on alcohol.
McKissack said Sirhan, serving his life sentence at Soledad Prison, has given up hope he will ever be paroled.
The release of the records follows years of demands for public access to the information.
The only things withheld from disclosure, Eu said, were autopsy photos, criminal ″rap sheets″ and fingerprint cards, juvenile case records, internal police personnel records and records that originated with the FBI or police departments outside Los Angeles.
Burns said the FBI would release its own file at an unspecified time.