“Onion Field Killer” denied compassionate prison release

CNN reports that the “Onion Field Killer” who has terminal cancer with less than six months to live, will never be released and will die in prison. Yesterday, the California Board of Parole Hearings denied a request for compassionate prison release.

Gregory Powell is serving a life sentence with the possibility of parole for first-degree murder at the California Medical Facility in Vacaville, said Terry Thornton, a spokeswoman for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.”

On the night of March 9, 1963, Gregory 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?” Campbell replied “yes.” Powell then shot him to death.

Officer Hettinger escaped but the murder of his partner haunted him for the rest of his life. Though Hettinger was able to escape, he was scorned by his fellow officers. Eventually a police training video was made using his experience as example of what not to do when stopping and approaching a vehicle.

Hettinger suffered severe emotional trauma as a result. He was forced to resign from the LAPD in 1966 after committing many acts of petty theft and abusing alcohol. Hettinger died of a liver disease in 1994 at the age of 59. Jimmy Lee Smith, Powell’s partner, died April 7, 2007, at the age of 76.

The Little Lindbergh Law makes a kidnapping within the state a capital offense even if the victim is unharmed. It followed a federal law, nicknamed the Lindbergh Law, that made taking a kidnapped person across state lines a federal crime. That law was passed after the kidnapping and murder of the young son of aviator Charles Lindbergh in 1932.