Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Wednesday, October 19, 2011


Page 3


Board Denies Parole for Ailing ‘Onion Field’ Killer


From Staff and Wire Service Reports


SACRAMENTO—The California parole board  yesterday denied compassionate release for the man convicted of killing a Los Angeles police officer during a kidnapping chronicled in the bestselling book “The Onion Field.”

Gregory Powell, 77, is serving a life sentence for kidnapping, with his late crime partner, Jimmy Smith, Los Angeles police officers Ian Campbell and Karl Hettinger in 1963. Powell fatally shot Campbell in an onion field near Bakersfield, while Hettinger escaped.

Powell now has terminal prostate cancer and did not attend yesterday’s hearing in Sacramento.

The state panel voted 10-1 against recommending his release to a judge because it said Powell still poses a threat. The board also said Powell does not wish to be released and likely would be uncooperative if granted parole.

“Powell’s release would pose a public safety risk due to his history of noncompliance and lack of cooperation with prison rules,” the panel stated.

Deputy District Attorney Alexis De la Garza, who spoke to The Associated Press after the hearing, said the denial’s duration would be for three years.

De la Garza said that Powell told board commissioners John Peck and Randy Kevorkian at a Jan. 28 parole hearing that he has terminal prostate cancer and would like to be released before he dies.

“I’ve done enough time. I’m a different man and I’m ready to be paroled,” De la Garza quoted Powell as saying at the prior hearing.

Under state law, inmates are eligible for compassionate release if they have six months or less to live, and the parole board routinely considers releasing them.

Members of Campbell’s family and the union for rank-and-file Los Angeles Police Department officers had urged the parole board to deny Powell’s release.

“We appreciate that the board of parole hearings, having repeatedly found Powell not suitable for parole ... is once again recommending against his release and helping to ensure that he serves the full sentence for his heinous crime,” Paul Weber, president of the Los Angeles Police Protective League, said in a statement yesterday.

The case was the subject of a 1973 best-selling non-fiction book, “The Onion Field” by former LAPD officer Joseph Wambaugh, which was turned into a movie in 1979.

De la Garza recounted that Powell and co-defendant, Jimmy Lee Smith, kidnapped Officer Ian Campbell and his partner, Karl Hettinger, on a March night in 1963 in Hollywood after they were pulled over in a routine traffic stop. They drove north to a Kern County field where Campbell was shot five hours later but Hettinger escaped.

Hettinger had been forced to give up his gun but escaped by running. He was said to be haunted by that night for the rest of his life, and was reportedly shunned by his LAPD colleagues. Yet after relocating to Kern County, he later enjoyed some fleeting success in local politics. After being appointed to an empty seat on the Kern County Board of Supervisors in 1987, he was elected to a full term on that board, but was then defeated for reelection in 1992. He died in 1994 at the age of 59.

Smith died in prison.


Copyright 2011, Metropolitan News Company