The California Board of Parole Hearings Tuesday denied a request for a "compassionate release" from prison for "Onion Field'' killer Gregory Powell, who murdered a Los Angeles policeman south of Bakersfield in 1963 after abducting the officer and his partner.
"To have released the man who kidnapped and callously executed Officer Ian Campbell would have been a travesty of justice," said Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley, whose office has long opposed parole for Powell and objected to the request for compassionate release.
The Los Angeles Police Protective League, the union representing Los Angeles police officers, also applauded the decision involving the 78-year-old inmate, who has prostate cancer. "While Officer Ian Campbell can never be brought back, nor the damage and heartache caused by Gregory Powell be undone, justice was upheld through the recommendation against granting [the] request for compassionate release and ensuring he draws his last breath while confined behind prison bars," LAPPL President Paul M. Weber said.
Members of Campbell's family joined the District Attorney's Office and the police officers' union in opposing Powell's release.
In denying the request, the board found that "Powell's release would pose a public safety risk due to his history of noncompliance and lack of cooperation with prison rules, his failure to follow recommendations made by the board to render him suitable for parole, his current physical abilities and the fact that he expressly does not wish to be considered for [such] relief, and therefore, will likely be noncompliant upon release and would cause harm to be returned to prison, where he wishes to remain."
Powell had previously been 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. Powell, who is incarcerated at a medical prison facility in Vacaville, was convicted of murdering Campbell, a 31-year-old police officer, 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.
—City News Service