Joseph Wambaugh on 'Onion Field' killer (Google+ Hangout)
Gregory U. Powell, who kidnapped two Los Angeles police officers in 1963 and killed one of them, has died, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation said. He was 79.
The Times will host a Google+ Hangout at 3 p.m. with author Joseph Wambaugh, who chronicled the killing in his book "The Onion Field"; Larry Harnisch, a Times copy editor and Los Angeles historian; and city editor Shelby Grad.
On March 10, 1963, Powell and accomplice Jimmy Lee Smith were driving through Hollywood when they were stopped by two police officers, Ian Campbell and Karl Hettinger.
When Campbell, a 31-year-old father, ordered Powell out of the car, Powell pulled a revolver from his pocket, spun behind the officer and stuck the gun in his back. He ordered Smith to disarm Hettinger, who hesitated to give up his gun but did so when Campbell pleaded with him. The officers were forced into the car and Campbell drove about 100 miles north to an isolated onion field near Bakersfield.
"There are no third acts for the conscienceless sociopath," said Wambaugh. "Now there is nobody left alive from that tragic nighttime encounter that ended in an onion field, where Ian Campbell died and from which Karl Hettinger never really escaped."
Powell was convicted and sentenced to die, but then won a new trial. A second jury decided on the same fate and, again, Powell received a reprieve when the state's Supreme Court banned the death penalty in 1972. (It was later reinstated.) His sentence was reduced to life in prison with the possibility of parole.
He never tasted freedom. Last year, with Powell suffering from prostate cancer, the state parole board rejected a final bid for release. No one spoke on Powell's behalf during the hearing. Smith, his partner that night, died several years ago after a life spent in and out of prison.