A state parole board will consider Tuesday a compassionate release request for “Onion Field” killer Gregory Powell, who murdered a Los Angeles policeman near Bakersfield in 1963 after abducting the officer and his partner.
The 77-year-old Powell, who has prostate cancer, was denied parole in January 2010 by a panel from the state’s Board of Parole Hearings which also ruled he would not be eligible for another parole hearing for three years. It
was his 11th parole hearing.
The Los Angeles Police Protective League, which represents the LAPD’s rank-and-file, is opposing Powell’s bid for release.
“Apparently Powell and his attorney fail to comprehend the meaning of the phrase ‘life in prison.’ Put simply, it means that unless granted parole, you will stay in prison for the remainder of your natural life, and die in that prison, whether by cancer, a heart attack, or old age,” the union’s board of directors said in a recent statement.
“Powell is not a suitable candidate for parole, as demonstrated by the 11 separate denials for parole since 1972. Part of the deserved punishment for his brutal crime is that he spend his last waking moments deprived of freedom.”
The Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office has consistently opposed parole for Powell in the past.
Powell, who is incarcerated at a medical prison facility in Vacaville, was convicted of murdering 31-year-old LAPD Officer Ian Campbell in a crime detailed in former LAPD Officer Joseph Wambaugh’s bestseller “The Onion Field.” The book was made into a movie in 1979, with James Woods portraying Powell and Ted Danson playing Campbell.
While patrolling in Hollywood, Campbell and partner Karl Hettinger were abducted at gunpoint by Powell and Jimmy Lee Smith on March 9, 1963. They were driven to an isolated onion field, where Powell shot Campbell to death. Hettinger was fired upon as he fled the onion field, but he managed to escape in the darkness.
The original convictions of Powell and Smith were reversed on appeal but they were retried and convicted again. Powell was initially condemned to death, but the sentence was reduced to life in prison after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1972 that California’s death penalty law at the time was unconstitutional.
Smith, released from prison in 1982, was in and out of custody several times before dying at a Los Angeles County jail facility in April 2007.