January 26th, 2010
12:51 PM ET

Parole for "Onion Field" killer?


[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2010/images/01/26/art.crime.powell.mug.jpg caption="Gregory Powell, 75, will face a California state parole board tomorrow morning."]

Gabriel Falcon
AC360° Writer

The cop killer whose crime was immortalized in Joseph Wambaugh’s best-selling book, “The Onion Field,” will face a California state parole board tomorrow morning.

Gregory Powell, 75, is expected to ask the panel to free him after serving nearly 50 years in prison.

A spokeswoman for the California Department of Corrections said Powell has previously been denied parole 11 times.

The case, chillingly detailed by Wambaugh, remains one of the most infamous police killings in history.

On the night of March 9, 1963, Powell and his accomplice, Jimmy Lee Smith, were driving around Los Angeles looking for a liquor store to rob.

Officers Ian Campbell and Karl Hettinger, on patrol in Hollywood, pulled the two thieves over. It should have been a routine stop. But Powell drew a gun on Campbell. He and Smith disarmed both officers, took them hostage and drove them to a remote onion field.

The officers were forced out of the car and ordered to stand with their hands above their hands. Powell said to them “we told you we were going to let you guys go, but have you ever heard of the Little Lindbergh Law?”

“Yes,” Campbell replied. Powell then shot him to death. Officer Hettinger escaped but the murder of his partner haunted him for the rest of his life.

Powell and Smith were sentenced to death in November, 1963. Their sentences were commuted to life in prison with the possibility of parole in the early 1970s when the death penalty was declared unconstitutional.

The Los Angeles Police Protective League is urging Powell’s parole be denied.

“This vicious murderer has not yet paid his debt to society and should be forced to serve the maximum term of his sentence," the league’s board of directors said in a statement.

“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.”

For more crime coverage go to cnn.com/crime.

Filed under: 360° Radar • Crime & Punishment • Gabe Falcon
soundoff (3 Responses)
  1. Valerye

    They should have been executed, but since California is so bent on keeping them alive, then Yes they should spend the rest of their lives in prison. Forever until they die!

    April 30, 2011 at 6:50 pm |
  2. ricky

    he needs to finish out his term.

    January 26, 2010 at 3:49 pm |
  3. Sara

    I agree with the statement that there should be no tolerance for killing police officers. As far as I am concerned he has gotten off easy with life in prision. But then again, those of us in Washington State are a little biased these days.

    January 26, 2010 at 3:41 pm |

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