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L.A. police chief, district attorney say homicide exhibit not intended to upset victims' families

March 4, 2010 |  9:10 am

Hoping to put rest the controversy over a homicide exhibit, L.A. Police Chief Charlie Beck and L.A. County Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley said Thursday the display was not intended to upset victims' families.

Beck apologized Tuesday to the family of the late Robert F. Kennedy and removed items from a homicide exhibit in Las Vegas that included the dress shirt, tie and jacket that were worn by the senator in 1968 when he was assassinated.

The clothing was among items in an exhibit at the 2010 California Homicide Investigators Assn. Conference, which is being hosted by the LAPD in Las Vegas. The multimedia presentation at the Palms Casino Resort features photographs, videos and evidence from the vaults of the LAPD and the Los Angeles County district attorney's office.

"We never intended to compound the grief of murder victims' families, but unfortunately, a few items on display have been interpreted by some people as such, and that was never our intention," Beck and Cooley said in a statement Thursday. "Our organizations strive to bring justice to homicide victims, not to cause sorrow to their families."

The exhibit also included items from the 1997 Bank of America shootout in North Hollywood, the Black Dahlia slaying, the investigation of actress Marilyn Monroe's death, the O.J. Simpson case, the Symbionese Liberation Army shootout, the "Onion Field" killing and the Manson family murders.

Also on display was evidence connected to the assassination of Kennedy, who was fatally shot by Sirhan Sirhan in the early morning of June 5, 1968, at the Ambassador Hotel. Kennedy was mortally wounded in a kitchen pantry moments after declaring victory in the California Democratic presidential primary.

The exhibit has already drawn thousands of visitors, many of whom waited hours in a line stretching around the casino to get in. Organizers have extended the hours to accommodate the extra viewers.

The statement by Cooley and Beck comes a day after one of Kennedy's sons criticized the Los Angeles Police Department for displaying his father's clothing.

"Such items are personal property, entrusted to the state's care, not to be exploited," Maxwell Taylor Kennedy wrote in an opinion piece for the Los Angeles Times. "He [Beck] relies on crime victims to prosecute virtually every criminal. He cannot long succeed if he continues to put victims' pain on display for publicity."

But Beck and Cooley said the exhibits were designed to give visitors a better appreciation for the tragedy of murder and the difficulty detectives have in solving complicated cases.

"Murder is the absolute worst thing one human being can do to another, and the displays were designed to provide a unique insight into the sacrifice of victims and their families, as well as the emotional toll murder takes on homicide detectives and the district attorneys who prosecute the cases," they wrote.

"Homicide is by nature horrific, but the entertainment media often portrays it as sterile and benign," the statement continued. "When people see the reality of murder, it becomes an unthinkable act."

-- Andrew Blankstein

Photo: Associated Press