RFK assassination witness Nina Rhodes Hughes confirms computer analysis of multiple shooters, Two guns firing, Sirhan Sirhan, 13 shots detected
From CNN April 30, 2012.
“RFK assassination witness tells CNN: There was a second shooter”
“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.”
“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’ firsthand account.
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 courtroom confession.
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 law.”
“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 federal judge.
Rhodes-Hughes was a television actress in 1968 who worked as a volunteer fundraiser for Kennedy’s presidential campaign.
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 bureau’s report.
“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.”
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 bullets.
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 summaries:
— 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.””