Robert A. Wenke, a retired Los Angeles County Superior Court judge who sought to untangle conspiracy theories as he presided over a high-profile examination of the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy, has died at the age of 88.
Wenke died Aug. 14 at his home in Long Beach from complications of pancreatic cancer, his family said in a statement.
Wenke, who in 1975 became the youngest presiding Superior Court judge in Los Angeles County, conceived and implemented the concept of allowing the public to apply to serve on a grand jury and appointed the first woman to serve as a foreperson on a Los Angeles County grand jury.
He also handled cases involving a long list of Hollywood celebrities -- Lucille Ball, Jimmy Durante, Cary Grant, Dyan Cannon and Barbara Stanwyck, among others.
But it was the Kennedy hearing in 1975 that kept him in the news.
Kennedy was fatally shot at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles in 1968 and Sirhan Sirhan had already been convicted and sentenced by the time Wenke presided over the so-called second gun hearings in 1975.
The hearings examined whether it was possible a second gunman had been involved in the assassination, a theory that gained momentum with reports that there might have been more gunshots than Sirhan could have possibly fired.
Vincent Bugliosi, a former deputy district attorney who had recently prosecuted murderer Charles Manson and his followers, told the court that nine gunshots could be heard, one more bullet than Sirhan’s gun held. There was also testimony that a mystery bullet had been found wedged into a door jam at the hotel.
FOR THE RECORD
Aug. 20, 8:09 p.m. A previous version of this post referred to Vincent Bugliosi as a former district attorney. He was a former deputy district attorney.
But in the end, a panel that Wenke appointed did not find enough evidence to investigate further and the case came to a halt.
Born on Sept. 6, 1926, in Stanton, Neb., Wenke served in the U.S. Navy during World War II and later graduated from the University of Nebraska School of Law. In 1950, he moved to Long Beach, where he practiced law until he was appointed to the bench -- first in Long Beach Municipal Court and then Los Angeles County Superior Court. He retired in 1986 but continued to work as an arbitrator and mediator.
He is survived by his wife of 65 years, Suzanne; his son, Thomas; his daughter, Cynthia Schoustra, and a granddaughter, Samantha.