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State parole board rejects release of 'Onion Field' killer

January 27, 2010 |  9:05 pm

Powell The state parole board this evening rejected a bid for release by Gregory Powell, who was convicted in the 1963 slaying of Los Angeles Police Officer Ian Campbell near Bakersfield. The crime and its aftermath were the subject of Joseph Wambaugh's book "The Onion Field."

Powell, 75, had sought release 11 times since 1972, when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the death penalty and his sentence was commuted to life in prison with the possibility of parole. On Wednesday, parole officials decided Powell should remain behind bars. He will be eligible for another parole review in three years.

As part of the four-hour hearing, officials read a letter from Valerie Campbell Moniz, who was 3 when her father and his partner were kidnapped off a street in Hollywood and driven to a field south of Bakersfield. Moniz said Powell shot her father "with a cold and callous heart."

"I would like the members of this board to imagine being kidnapped and driving the route with the muzzle of a gun pressed up against your ribs," Moniz said. "At the conclusion of this two-hour horror ride, you are then forced out of the car and then coldly, calmly and willfully shot in the face just above the upper lip and below the nose."

Last week, the union representing Los Angeles police officers sent a letter to the board urging members to deny parole for Powell, saying he had "not yet paid his debt to society."

Campbell and his partner, Karl Hettinger, had stopped a car carrying Powell and accomplice Jimmy Lee Smith. Powell pulled a gun and disarmed Campbell, then forced Hettinger to give up his weapon too. The officers were forced into the car and driven off.

They were ordered out of the car and into the field near Bakersfield, where Campbell was shot. Hettinger began running through the field, escaped 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. Smith, who was convicted along with Powell, died in prison in 2007.

Moniz said the passage of time had not healed her wounds.

"There has not been one day that has passed that I have not thought about and dreamed about my dad," she said. "Growing up without him has been devastating, but what torments me is the manner in which my father died."

-- Andrew Blankstein

Photo: Gregory Powell. Credit: California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation