Prosecutors say too late to reopen Robert Kennedy case

LOS ANGELES Wed May 18, 2011 2:14pm EDT

Sirhan Sirhan in a 2009 photo. REUTERS/California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation

Sirhan Sirhan in a 2009 photo.

Credit: Reuters/California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation

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LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The man convicted of assassinating Robert F. Kennedy in 1968 should not be allowed to reopen his case because defense lawyers have produced no new evidence, state prosecutors argued in court papers.

The papers filed on Monday by the California Attorney General argued that the findings presented by defense lawyers for Sirhan Sirhan were available long before his prior counsel submitted an unsuccessful appeal in 1997.

Sirhan, 67, was denied parole for a 13th time in March. He is serving a life sentence at Pleasant Valley State Prison in Coalinga, California.

Kennedy, brother of the late President John F. Kennedy, was a New York senator running for president when he was slain in 1968. Sirhan was wrestled to the ground with a gun in his hand at the scene of the shooting at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles.

Sirhan's attorney, William Pepper, in April filed a motion in federal court arguing an audiotape from the scene of the assassination suggests a mysterious second gunman -- someone other than Sirhan -- fired the fatal shot.

Pepper had claimed the tape, which was recorded by a journalist at the scene, contains the sound of 13 shots, but that Sirhan's gun had eight rounds and he did not reload.

He also argued Sirhan has not relied on the audiotape in previous appeals, because new technology to accurately examine the tape was not available until 2004.

In their response, prosecutors said that as far back as 1988 the California State Archives had the audiotape and listed it as possibly containing the sound of shots fired.

SIRHAN CLAIMS 'HYPNO-PROGRAMMED'

"The alleged absence of current audio-testing technology was not an 'extraordinary circumstance' that actually prevented (Sirhan) from diligently pursing and timely presenting any of his claims," deputy attorney general Jaime Fuster argued in the court papers.

"Instead, the recording is just another piece of evidence arguably relevant to (Sirhan's) two-gunmen theory of the crime scene," Fuster wrote.

The filing from prosecutors did not seek to examine whether more than eight shots can be heard on the audio tape.

But audio experts remain at odds over the exact number of shots on the tape.

Contrary to the findings of experts cited by Sirhan's attorneys, a 2006 examination by Philip Harrison, a director of U.K. forensic audio laboratory J.P. French Associates, did not find evidence of shots from a second gun.

Pepper in his court filings also argued that Sirhan was "hypno-programed" and that a woman in a polka dot dress induced Sirhan into shooting at Kennedy. Pepper relied on a personal examination of Sirhan by Harvard Medical School professor Daniel Brown to reach that conclusion.

Prosecutors argued that suggestions that Sirhan was programed through hypnosis to shoot at Kennedy have been around for decades, and are not new.

The prosecutors stated that they have declined to address evidence of whether Sirhan is innocent "unless otherwise ordered by this court."

It was unclear when a federal judge will rule on the arguments from the two sides.

(Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis: Editing by Dan Whitcomb)

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