Editor's Note: This blog post first appeared on the Los Angeles Police Protective League's website. 

Convicted of the murder of on-duty Los Angeles police officer Ian Campbell, whom he kidnapped and later executed, "Onion Field" killer Gregory Powell was sentenced to death. That sentence was then reduced to life in prison with possibility of parole when the courts struck down California's death penalty in 1972.

For those who may have forgotten the horrific crime, on March 9, 1963, Ian and his partner, Karl Hettinger, were assigned to Hollywood Division. Ian and Karl stopped a car with two suspicious people, Gregory Powell and Jimmy Smith. Ian and Karl did not know that Powell and Smith were both armed and looking for a liquor store to rob. As Ian approached the car, Powell took Ian as a hostage. Karl surrendered his gun under the threat that if he did not, Ian would be killed.

Both officers were kidnapped. Ian was forced to drive at gunpoint with Karl in the back seat. They were taken to a deserted onion field near Bakersfield where Powell executed Ian. As Ian lay on the ground, Smith shot him four times. Karl managed to escape. Both Powell and Smith were arrested within 24 hours of the murder. Joseph Wambaugh wrote the book, "The Onion Field" about Ian's murder.

Now, however, Powell wants another chance at getting out of prison. He has cancer, and believes that fact should justify a "compassionate release" from prison. Never mind that he showed Ian Campbell absolutely no mercy and tried to murder Campbell's partner Karl Hettinger that same night in that same onion field.

Apparently, Powell and his attorney fail to comprehend the meaning of the phrase "life in prison." Put simply, it means that unless granted parole, you will stay in prison for the remainder of your natural life, and die in that prison, whether by cancer, a heart attack, or old age. Powell is not a suitable candidate for parole, as demonstrated by the 11 separate denials for parole since 1972.

Given that, Powell's life sentence is not a sentence of "imprisonment until a terminal illness develops." It should be expected that the inmate will stay and die in prison. It defeats the purpose of a life sentence if, at the end of life, cold-blooded murderers like Powell are let out so their last days can be spent in comfort. Part of the deserved punishment for his brutal crime is that he spend his last waking moments deprived of freedom.


'Onion Field' Cop Killer Denied Parole

The Storyteller: Joseph Wambaugh