Onion Field killer Gregory Powell was denied parole this week after nearly 47 years behind bars, despite his plea for more freedom before he dies from terminal prostate cancer. The 76-year-old reportedly told a parole board in San Luis Obispo, “I've done enough time. I'm a different man and I'm ready to be paroled.”
Approval of Powell's parole before a California Board of Prison Terms panel was opposed by the Los Angeles County District Attorney's office and the union representing L.A. city cops, the Los Angeles Police Protective League, whose president, Paul M. Weber, stated, ” … We are pleased with their decision.”
Officers Ian James Campbell, 31 and Karl Hettinger, 28, pulled over a suspicious vehicle containing Powell and Jimmy Lee Smith in Hollywood on March 9, 1963. The pair had been looking for a liquor store to rob.
Powell pulled a gun on Campbell and ordered the cops inside the Ford, forcing Campbell to drive the duo north to an onion field near Bakersfield. After ordering the officers out of the car, hands raised, Powell opened fire on Campbell, killing him. Hettinger fled to a farmhouse and summoned help.
Valerie Campbell Moniz was three when her father was killed. She submitted this statement to the parole panel: “I would like the members of this board to imagine being kidnapped and driving that route with the muzzle of a gun pressed up against your ribs for that entire two hours. You can only imagine the mental anguish that would have been going through your mind during this time. At the conclusion of this two-hour horror ride, you are then forced out of the car and then coldly, calmly and willfully shot in the face just above the upper lip and below the nose.”
Powell had believed the kidnapping constituted a capital crime and decided to eliminate the witnesses. In fact, it wasn't a capital crime until he killed someone in the commission of a kidnapping. He was sentenced to death but received life instead when the death penalty was overturned in California in the early 1970s. Smith also served time on and off, dying in county jail in 2007.
The murder was made famous by former L.A. cop Joseph Wambaugh's bestseller The Onion Field, which was made into a movie.
Powell will be eligible to receive a parole hearing again in three years.