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Sunday, July 9, 1995 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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''The Killing Of Robert F. Kennedy: An Investigation Of Motive, Means, And Opportunity''

"The Killing of Robert F. Kennedy: An Investigation of Motive, Means, and Opportunity" by Dan E. Moldea Norton, $27.50

Pity poor Dan Moldea. He's involved in the sensationalistic field of crime reporting - his previous books include "Dark Victory: Ronald Reagan, MCA, and the Mob" - and instead of the trash the public craves, he gives us ballistics reports.

In the case of the assassination of Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, rather than bizarre flotsam such as "the girl in the polka dot dress," the security guard with alleged mob connections, and the possibility that Sirhan Sirhan was hypnotized into committing the crime, Moldea creates an absorbing, thorough study by focusing on facts.

Sirhan Sirhan fired all eight cylinders of his Iver-Johnson .22 at Kennedy on June 5, 1968; seven slugs were recovered. But since no one else reportedly discharged a weapon that evening, why did Los Angeles police find two extra bullet holes at the crime site? The fatal shot struck Kennedy in the back of the head; powder burns indicate the gun was two inches away. Yet Kennedy was facing Sirhan Sirhan when the firing began, and all eyewitnesses place the weapon two to three feet from the senator. So why the entrance wounds? And how the powder burns? Moldea provides logical answers to these troubling questions, and arrives at his own explanation for the tragic encounter in the Ambassador Hotel pantry - an explanation that may disappoint some but always seems grounded on firm evidence.

Even more important than powder burns and bullet trajectories may be the less measurable aspects of the case. According to news reports, Kennedy's last words were, "Is everybody OK? Is Paul (an RFK aide) all right?" To ask such questions when one lies bleeding to death is surely one sign of a brave and selfless leader. It is a type we have not seen since.

Copyright (c) 1995 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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