Nearly 44 years after the June 1968 assassination of U.S. presidential contender Robert F. Kennedy, a Canadian woman who was at the Los Angeles scene of the crime has emerged as the key witness in a bid by convicted assassin Sirhan Sirhan to gain release from prison or be granted a new trial based on previously unheard evidence.
A U.S. federal appeals court is currently examining submissions from Sirhan’s legal team that argue suppressed ballistic evidence and eyewitness accounts — including one from the Canadian woman — suggest there was a second shooter at the Los Angeles hotel where Kennedy was murdered.
Vancouver resident Nina Rhodes-Hughes — a 78-year-old American-born television actress and a local theatre enthusiast in the city’s Bowen Island community — was serving as a volunteer fundraiser for Kennedy’s campaign when he was fatally shot in a kitchen pantry at the Ambassador Hotel on June 5, 1968.
NBC photo taken in 1965, Tv actress Nina Rhodes-Hughes, left, and her Morning Star co-star Elizabeth Perry meet Robert F. Kennedy at NBC’s Burbank studios. HANDOUT PHOTO: Nina RHodes-Hughe
He died from his wounds about 24 hours later, on June 6. Five others injured in the attack survived.
Rhodes-Hughes, after a Saturday interview with CNN sparked a worldwide resurgence of interest in the assassination, told Postmedia News on Monday that she heard at least 12 shots that day — not eight as argued by the California prosecutors who convicted Sirhan as the lone gunman.
The gun Sirhan had when he was arrested held only eight bullets.
“I gave them a true account of what happened,” Rhodes-Hughes said of the FBI investigators who interviewed her following the Kennedy killing. “I had no idea what they were going to say I said. You trust, you know? But what I said about a second shooter was completely ignored.”
Following Sirhan’s conviction, Rhodes-Hughes said she felt she was “not in a position of power or influence” to raise questions about a single-killer theory. Then, years after she’d moved to British Columbia in 1987 and become a Canadian citizen, she was contacted by University of Massachusetts professor and freedom-of-information advocate Philip Melanson, who was writing a book raising questions about the RFK assassination — including various threads of evidence pointing to more than eight gunshots and a possible second assassin.
She recalls Melanson showing her a transcript of her 1968 interview with FBI detectives.
There were more than a dozen errors in the document, she said, “and they credited me with saying there were eight shots — which I never said.”
Her eyewitness account of Kennedy’s murder “was completely misconstrued and misrepresented,” she added, vividly recalling details of where people were standing and what happened on the night of the assassination.
“There was no way that the shots coming from my right at such rapid fire were done by Sirhan Sirhan,” said Rhodes-Hughes, who spoke with Postmedia News Monday.
Rhodes-Hughes said in her CNN interview that she believes Sirhan — 24 at the time of the assassination and now 68 — “was absolutely there” as a participant in the killing and “I don’t feel he should be exonerated.”
But she added on Monday that “there is a great urgency” to identify the second shooter, “who I believe was the one that hit Sen. Kennedy.”
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