Southern California -- this just in

« Previous Post | L.A. NOW Home | Next Post »

Police oppose parole for 'Onion Field' slayer [Updated]

Gregory Powell’s crime, and its complex aftermath, were chronicled a generation ago in Joseph Wambaugh’s bestselling book “The Onion Field.”

Now, as the public’s recollection of the incident begins to fade, the union that represents nearly 10,000 Los Angeles police officers says it is determined to remind people of the March 1963 kidnapping and execution of LAPD Officer Ian Campbell.

Powell, who was convicted of the crime along with an accomplice, is scheduled for a parole hearing Jan. 27.

In a Thursday letter to state corrections officials, L.A. police union President Paul Weber urged the board to deny parole, calling Powell a "vicious murderer who has not yet paid his debt to society."

Powell, 75, received the death penalty for the crime. However, the sentence was later commuted to life in prison with the possibility parole when California briefly outlawed capital punishment.

Weber insists that Powell should be forced to serve the maximum sentence and recounts details of the crime in his letter.

Officer Campbell and his partner Karl Hettinger had stopped a car carrying Powell and accomplice Jimmy Lee Smith as they searched for  a liquor store to rob. During the stop, Powell pulled a gun, stuck it in Campbell’s back, disarmed the officer and forced Hettinger to give up his weapon too. Then they drove north.

“Near Bakersfield, Powell spotted a gravel road and ordered Campbell to pull off the freeway," Weber wrote. “After crossing a series of dirt roads, Officers Campbell and Hettinger were ordered out of the car into a vast field, where they stood still with their arms in the air. Then Powell asked Campbell, ‘Have you ever heard of the Little Lindbergh Law?’ and shot him.”

Hettinger began running through the field and escaped as Powell fired at him. As luck would have it, a cloud blotted out the moon, allowing the fleeing officer to take cover in bushes before he ran four miles to a farmhouse and summoned help.

Powell was captured a short time later driving back to Los Angeles. Smith was arrested the next day in a Bakersfield rooming house. He died in 2007.

Powell's question about the Little Lindbergh Law revealed the basis for the killing. Powell believed, mistakenly, that the law made it a capital offense to kidnap the officers.

Weber said of Hettinger: "The incident haunted him the rest of his life."

[Updated at 7:47 a.m.: A previous version of this post incorrectly identified Gregory Powell as Gary Powell.]

-- Andrew Blankstein

For historical coverage of the "Onion Field" killing, see the Daily Mirror blog.

Comments () | Archives (60)

Wain, the current penalty for kidnapping and execution style murder, regardless of who it is, can be the death penalty, so according to your rationale, he should get the death penalty.

Carl Johnson, would you feel the same if it were someone you loved? Regardless of who murdered who, you don't feel that kidnapping and execution doesn't deserve life in prison?

This guy most definitely must remain in prison till the day he dies. Mr. Campbell never had a chance. Why should this dirtbag have one? Even spending the rest of his life in the confines of a prison is too good for Mr. Powell.

Keep him right where he is ... rotting away in prison.

'You think a cops life is worth more than yours? Parole him'

Posted by: Carl Johnson | January 22, 2010 at 08:33 AM

Mr. Johnson, you miss the point. Any psychopath crazy enough to kill a police office is an even bigger threat to the civilian population. I can't understand how a death penalty wasn't kicked down to life without the possibility of parole. Why did someone think ahead that this guy could someday get parole?

You can only assume and give opinions fo what the officers went through. A movie and book are going to have holes, espeicially since no one else was there. I mean you got the women from the Charlie Manson murders wanted to get out and how many people were for that and opposed it. And seriouly it is not like police are innocent themselves, ya the officer did not deserve his fate but it is a chance they all take by putting on the badge. And what about cops who feel they are above the law or use the law on their side to justify beating someone, remember Rodney King! I feel for the officers and Powell, hes an old man and has nothing, you figure everyone he cared about are gone. If hes out hes out, hes not gonna have any friends and he can't hurt anyone. So, let the board decide.

In the photo, Powell bears a remarkable resemblance to James Woods, the actor who portrayed him in the film. I agree with the police union: He should spend the rest of his life in prison.

The thing that gets me about this is that Powell was a career criminal and not a very smart one at that. I saw a comment about not being able to increase a penalty retroactively, but he already recieved the death penalty. The man was just not willing to be anything but what he was and should pay the price. The killing of a police officer doesn't mean ANYTHING more to me than the murder of say a mother of small children (and probably less since I personally have been threatened and assaulted by L.A. cops while growing up), but that isn't the point. Anyone who can kill cops wouldn't think twice about killing some regular unarmed person on the street and is therefore WAY more dangerous than a guy that comes home early from work to catch his wife and friend having it off and, losing control, kills them w/o a thought of the consequences.

How can a convict "pay back" something by spending his life rotting away in a prison? Does simply being a "good prisoner" provide some benefit to society? If our "correctional institutions" gave sociopaths like Powell the opportunity to pay penance with something like hard labor then we'd have something to discuss about whether his debts to society were settled.

It seems to me the only other rational societal response to such heinous disregard for life is to quickly and humanely euthanize the rabid creature the way any dangerous animal is put down. Locking someone up for life is cruel and unusual punishment.

I am far more afraid of any US Senator or US Congressman who can hurt us much more than this old man.

Powell took a life, and I do not care that it was a police officer. It is just the fact he took a life. It was not by accident, and he needs to stay in prison until he dies. The police office will never get his life back. Why should Powell be free when the office is dead?

keep the that guy in jail, and let him rot for what he did. why would he ever get a parole time?? stupid

Few can hold hate as long as a cop.

Cops also hold to the erroneous belief that a cop's life is worth more than anyone else's. A bit self-serving, don't you think?

Anyone who willfully kills another should NEVER be paroled. Not to mention that this particular prisoner should not be living. By virtue of a commuted sentence he escaped death, but he should not even be considered for parole regardless that this was part of the commutation.

He has paid for his crime, he's now 75. He has no future or even a chance for a future. Parole him. If the victim were not a cop, the criminal would have already been paroled.

While this event occurred before my birth, the kidnapping and murder of Policeman Ian Campbell has had an impact on my life. I grew up hearing the story of the “Onion Field” from my father, who proudly served as a LAPD officer for 29 years. He knew both Officers Campbell and Hettinger. My father related the anguish and guilt that consumed Officer Hettinger during his tortured life following the “Onion Field”. Unfortunately, my father like so many who served at the time of this crime, has passed on. Therefore, I it is my obligation to ensure that his and the officers voice’s of his generation still resonate today to oppose Powell's parole.

As a second generation LAPD officer, the story and lessons of the “Onion Field” have remained with me. In 1996, I arrested Powell’s cohort in this crime, Jimmy Lee Smith, for multiple counts of sales and possession for sales of controlled substances following his parole. I interviewed the then 67 year old Smith before his return to prison and found him to be a callous and unrepentant career criminal.

Like Smith, Powell is a career criminal that will re-offend if released from prison. Further, Powell’s viscous and calculated actions that night had a profound and devastating effect on the families of Officers Campbell and Hettinger. Officer Hettinger suffered the effects of Powell’s brutality for the remainder of his tortured life, as he too has passed on.

Powell should remain incarcerated for the remainder of his natural life.

Unfortunately, not a one of you folks "get it". It appears that most of you are very opinionated about the wrong issue. This guy was given the "death penalty" END OF STORY. Who cares if it was overturned. After-the-fact laws should NOT change the sentence given. Your opinions about cops has nothing to do with this guy. YOU WERE NOT THERE.

He has paid his debt to society. Enough of this foolishness. The only reason they want him to remain in prison is because he killed a cop. Had he killed anyone else, this discussion would not be taking place.

Powell needs to rot in that prison. Parole shouldn't be an option.

Maybe if this guy killed your grandfather, some of you may feel differently.

I also have read the Onion Field. This man should have been executed long ago. If they had to commute his sentence to Life so be it, but never, ever let him out. This is no case of mistaken identity or someone that is going to get off with DNA. This person is not human and is a menace to society.

Life WITHOUT parole. Am I missing something?

In 1982 my non-profit organization, Citizens for Truth, gathered 31,500 petition signatures in three and a half weeks demanding that Gregory Powell's parole date be rescinded. The parole board had already released Powell's accomplice, Jimmy Lee Smith, when Powell's victim's daughter, Valerie Campbell, came to our organization for help. Together we went to San Francisco and filed a "friend of the court" brief in support of the appeal Assistant Attorney General Dane Gillette had filed to overturn the parole ruling by Solano County Superior Court Judge Ellis Randall ordering Powell's release in 10 days. We won in the appellate court as well as the California Supreme Court. We commend LA Police Union President Paul Weber and his members for standing up for commom sense here. Gregory Powell's performance is what he must be judged by, not the words emanating from his vocal cords. Protection of the public is paramount here.

keep this guy in prison.. he killed a police officer for christ sake. if they parole him the entire parole board should be fired...

I agree with the opinions below that he should not be paroled. The book was great and so was the movie. Just an aside, one of the police officers was played by a new actor, Ted Danson.

Keep this FOOL in prison 4 the remainder of his life. even if he is 75 yrs old. Anyone who takes a life, derserves 2 die 2, or rot in jail til he dies. i believe in "An eye 4 an eye". IAN CAMPBELL, GOD REST YOUR SOUL! KARL HETTINGER THANK YOU FOR YOUR SERVICE! This is a response 2 mel. I think you are on drugs! If you ever need help, dont call on these BRAVE MEN & WOMEN IN BLUE! & 40 years aint enough. til he stops breathing, then he paid is debt!

Let him go!he has paid the price for his doing.The police want a double standard in which they want the right to kill uanarmed non confrontational citizens.He simply scored one for the home team,which always is behind and losing to the corrupt and cheating visitors AKA law enforcement.I say give him a job in a swine slaughterhouse for he certainly has the experience.When he is released we need to welcome him back into the community.

he escaped the death penalty but shouldnt escape life in prison.keep him in jail.

« | 1 2 3 | »


Recommended on Facebook


In Case You Missed It...


About L.A. Now
L.A. Now is the Los Angeles Times’ breaking news section for Southern California. It is produced by more than 80 reporters and editors in The Times’ Metro section, reporting from the paper’s downtown Los Angeles headquarters as well as bureaus in Costa Mesa, Long Beach, San Diego, San Francisco, Sacramento, Riverside, Ventura and West Los Angeles.
Have a story tip for L.A. Now?
Please send to newstips@latimes.com
Can I call someone with news?
Yes. The city desk number is (213) 237-7847.


Get Alerts on Your Mobile Phone

Sign me up for the following lists: