'Onion Field' Killer Gets Parole Hearing

A man serving a life sentence for the kidnapping and execution murder of a Los Angeles police officer in a case made famous by Joseph Wambaugh's book The Onion Field (and an eponymous movie) is up for parole Wednesday.

The union representing rank-and-file Los Angeles police is opposing parole for Gregory Powell. Paul M. Weber, president of the Los Angeles Police Protective League, writes: "This vicious murderer has not yet paid his debt to society and should be forced to serve the maximum term of his sentence. We must never show any tolerance for the killing of police officers. Please send the clear message that the murder of police officers is unacceptable and all those who are guilty of it must expect the harshest possible punishment available under the law."

Powell and Jimmy Lee Smith, who is now dead, were looking for a liquor store to rob on March 9, 1963 when they were pulled over by officers Ian James Campbell, 31 and Karl Hettinger, 28, in Hollywood. They thought the Ford the suspects were riding in looked suspicious, and it had out-of-state-plates.

As the suspects were ordered out of the vehicle, Powell pulled a gun on Campbell and ordered both cops inside the Ford. Campbell was forced to drive and Hettinger sat in back at gunpoint. They drove north to an onion field near Bakersfield. The cops were ordered out of the car, hands raised.

"Have you ever heard of The Little Lindbergh Law," Powell asked before opening fire on Campbell, killing him. Hettinger fled under the cover of a clouded moon, running four miles to a farmhouse to summon help. He survived, and the ordeal haunts him to this day.

The Little Lindbergh law was misinterpreted by Powell: He thought that the kidnapping constituted a capital crime. Such a crime only became a death-penalty case, however, if someone was harmed. Powell originally received the death penalty, but his sentence was commuted to life when a California court overturned executions in the state.


Sponsor Content

Newsletters

All-access pass to the top stories, events and offers around town.

  • Top Stories
    Send:

Newsletters

All-access pass to top stories, events and offers around town.

Sign Up >

No Thanks!

Remind Me Later >