Trials: A Deadly Iteration

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These tortured meditations of Senator Robert Kennedy's assassin jump in a schoolboyish scribble across the 9-by-12-in. pages of the spiral-bound notebooks that served Sirhan Bishara Sirhan as a diary. Meandering on and on in an unpunctuated stream of consciousness, they speak of death. My determination to eliminate R.F.K. is becoming more the more of an unshakable obsession, wrote Sirhan.

To Sirhan's prosecutors, painstakingly winding up their meticulous case last week in Los Angeles after nine days of testimony, the date at the head of the diary's page — May 18, 1968 — underlined the state's contention that the killer who struck down Kennedy almost three weeks later had conceived his act in malice and with long-formulated forethought. Sirhan, distraught that his most intimate secrets would be in the hands of strangers, treated Judge Herbert V. Walker, the police and his own lawyers to some bitter disclosures.

"Your Honor," Sirhan announced to the startled judge in chambers, "if these notebooks are allowed in evidence, I will change my plea to guilty as charged. I will do so, sir, not so much that I want to be railroaded into the gas chamber, sir, but to deny you the pleasure, sir, of — after convicting me — turning around and telling the world: 'Well, I put that fellow in the gas chamber, but I first gave him a fair trial,' when you, in fact, sir, will not have done so."

Angrily, Sirhan insisted that the police had had no search warrant and had stolen the books when they were given permission by his brother Adel to look through Sirhan's bedroom. Two of the notebooks were found on his bureau, the third at the foot of Sirhan's bed. Adamantly refusing to accept his plea, Walker warned Sirhan's lawyers that he could order him held to his chair by restraining straps and gagged with a special face mask if he did not keep silent.

Proof Needed. Although the three attorneys defending Sirhan entered objections to exhibiting the diaries, the pages passed from hand to hand in the jury box could only reinforce the defense pleas of diminished responsibility or insanity, which would spare their client the death penalty. The diary also read: Ambassador Goldberg must die die die die die Ambassador Goldberg must die Ambassador Goldberg must be illiminated . . . Kennedy must fall Please pay to the order of Sirhan Sirhan the amount of Sirhan Sirhan . . .

With a day's respite from court, defense lawyers began constructing their case for the 24-year-old Jordanian immigrant. However, when a Pasadena, Calif., school official began testifying for the defense that Sirhan's IQ was 89 (a score of 90-110 is the norm), their client exploded again. While Judge Walker hastily sequestered the jury, Sirhan addressed the bench. "I, at this time, sir," he declared, "wish to withdraw my original plea of not guilty and submit the plea of guilty on all counts."

Walker: Do I understand that you want to plead guilty to murder in the first degree?

Sirhan: Yes, sir, I do.

Walker: What do you want to do about the penalty?

Sirhan: I will ask to be executed.

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