Onion Field killer Gregory Powell denied parole 47 years after crime

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Onion Field killer denied parole

LOS ANGELES — A convicted killer was denied parole Wednesday 47 years after he and a partner kidnapped two Los Angeles police officers and shot one to death in a case made famous by the book and movie “The Onion Field.”

A California Board of Prison Terms panel found the 76-year-old Gregory Powell unsuitable for parole after a hearing at the California Men’s Colony at San Luis Obispo. It was his 11th parole hearing.

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 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 Powelll as saying.

However, she said the commissioners pointed out that during his nearly half century in prison he has taken no steps to participate in self help, educational or vocational programs.

De la Garza argued that the heinousness of the crime made him unsuitable for parole.

“It was a cold, deliberate crime,” she said, “and he had a long time to reflect on it.”

The crime was chronicled in Joseph Wambaugh’s best-selling book, “The Onion Field.”

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 Bakersfield onion field where Campbell was shot five hours later but Hettinger escaped.

Hettinger had been forced to give up his gun but escaped by running into the onion field. He was haunted by that night for the rest of his life, was shunned by his colleagues, and died in 1994 at the age of 59.

De la Garza said Powell chose not to discuss details of the crime during the hearing.

She said his attorney, Tracy Lum, argued that Powell had shown remorse and is an old man who has served enough time. She also pointed out that his partner in crime, Smith, had been paroled. However, Smith quickly violated parole and died behind bars in 2007.

Powell and Smith were sentenced to death but their sentences were commuted to life in prison after the death penalty was briefly outlawed in the 1970s.

Los Angeles Police League President Paul M. Weber, who last week sent a letter to the Parole Board urging that Powell stay in prison, said “We greatly appreciate that the Parole Board weighed the details of Powell’s egregious crime and decided to keep him behind bars.”

The two members of the parole panel heard from a nephew of Campbell and from LAPD Officer Cliff Armas who read a statement from Campbell’s daughter, who was three years old when he was killed.

Valerie Campbell Moniz told of the family’s devastation after Campbell’s death and wrote: ” I grew up without a father because of the act of a sociopath….Gregory Powell must spend the rest of his life in prison. To release him dishonors the memory of my father, law enforcement and the Los Angeles Police Department”

Armas said he is a member of the Los Angeles Police Emerald Society Pipe and Drum Band, a group which honors the memory of Campbell who had a passion for playing the bagpipes. As the result of his death, Armas said the bagpipes are played at the funerals of every officer who dies in the line of duty.

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