Lawrence Teeter, a criminal defense and civil rights attorney who had tried for the last decade to overturn the conviction of Sirhan Sirhan for the 1968 assassination of Robert F. Kennedy, has died. He was 56.
Teeter died Sunday in Conchitas, Mexico, where he had gone to seek alternative treatment for advanced lymphoma, said attorney Frank Weiser.
Sirhan was convicted and sentenced to death in the June 5, 1968, fatal shooting of Kennedy at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles after a celebration of Kennedy's victory in the California Democratic presidential primary.
Sirhan's sentence was reduced to life imprisonment after the California Supreme Court struck down the state death penalty law that existed at that time. Now 61, he is incarcerated at Corcoran maximum security state prison.
Teeter, who signed on as Sirhan's lawyer in 1994, repeatedly petitioned state and federal courts to grant a new trial and to conduct it in Fresno rather than Los Angeles, where Teeter said his client could never be tried fairly.
The lawyer maintained that Sirhan at the time of the slaying was in the wrong position and too far away to have fired the bullets that killed Kennedy, and that, although he did fire a gun that night, he did so in a hypnotic trance akin to the fictional film "The Manchurian Candidate."
Teeter said Sirhan was hypnotized and framed, either by the CIA or "the military industrial complex," which feared Kennedy would be elected president and quickly end the Vietnam War. The lawyer also said the Los Angeles Police Department and others destroyed evidence that would have pointed to the real killer.
Among Teeter's other clients was Norma Jean Almodovar, a former LAPD traffic officer turned call girl who ran unsuccessfully for lieutenant governor on the Libertarian Party ticket in 1986.
Teeter tried futilely to save her from a mandatory three-year state prison term for pandering, arguing that the 1982 law specifying the sentence was unconstitutional. His argument was rejected by the state's 2nd District Court of Appeal.
Teeter also handled environmental law cases, including representing a local association in opposing the recent remodeling of the Hollywood Bowl, and took on many cases without a fee, Weiser said.
Teeter, who was born in Los Angeles, did undergraduate work at UCLA and UC Berkeley and earned his law degree from Southwestern University School of Law in Los Angeles before setting up his solo practice.
Teeter is survived by his mother, Marian Teeter of Los Angeles, and a half brother, Anthony Way of Sacramento.
Memorial services and the establishment of a constitutional-law scholarship fund in Teeter's name are pending.