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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)

"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! "
Posted by: david | January 22, 2010 at 10:38 AM

David, your callous dismissal of the loss of a man's life as simply "the chance he took" by virtue of his career choice is as disgusting as the crime itself. I suppose if a Cal-Trans worker is squashed like a bug on the freeway, that's simply the chance he took by putting on that orange vest. Or when a firefighter loses his life in the line of duty, that's just the chance he took for driving the shiny red truck. Right?

Furthermore, the reference to Rodney King is laughable and lacks any foundational relevance to the topic at hand. Your pitiful effort to assign the behavioral characteristics of a few to the entirety of the police force is ludicrous.

You, sir, are an idiot.

Lets get Barbara Boxer on board, want to get my vote in November? Make it public and keep this murderer of a LAPD Police Officer in prison for life, and we will grant you another deserved term.

I feel that this prisoner should be parolled, as soon as the brave officer (Camppbell) that he executed is parolled from the sentence imposed upon him by Mr. Powell.

problem like this would never happen in Texas...or China!

This is the problem with not executing,he should have been executed years go.Next Manson will be getting out.You wonder where your taxes go?

No way. Let him serve the sentence he was given. Killing a police officer for essentially nothing shows a willingness to kill any one of us. That makes him more dangerous than the average killer by a wide margin. It doesn't matter how long he's been in jail, he needs to serve Life.

Don't worry, three Federal judges are about to release tens of thousands of felons onto our streets so they won't suffer over crowding in prison. My heart bleeds. Powell's parole is nothing in comparison. How do we stop these judges from over turning our laws and sending a mass of hardened criminals into our neighborhoods?

That's why I'm in favor of capital punishment.

He was sentenced to death. Then life. And now, he may get out.

Sentences need to be final.

Much ado about nothing: The state Board of Parole Hearings, whose members are appointed by the governor, grants parole in about 5 percent of the cases it considers, and less often for murderers. Most of the releases are vetoed by the governor. He will not be freed. Sadly actually rehabilitated appropriate inmates don't get out either. So why do we have a parole board anyway?

Remember that Powell is a psychopath. Not only is he kept in prison for the crime he committed, but the danger he would present if released. He has not served his full sentence and parole is an early release with the hope the offender has learned his lesson. Does anyone think a Psychopath can learn their lesson when they don't recognize their problem in the first place. Powell would be a potential time bomb on the streets. Should we risk one more victim to make the soft-hearted or cop haters feel good? After 47 years, Powell is more comfortable where he is than on the streets. God bless both Campbell and Hettinger.

Vaughan in Fairfax, VA

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