76-year-old Gregory Powell
On Jan. 27, the California Board of Prison Terms panel found 76-year-old Gregory Powell unsuitable for parole after a hearing. Panel found 76-year-old Gregory Powell unsuitable for parole after a hearing.
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Late last month, the California Parole Board decided to not grant Gregory Powell parole for the 11th time. Most within the law enforcement community praised the decision. Rightfully so.
Let me recap the incident for those younger officers out there who might not know all the details of this case. Powell and his accomplice, Jimmy Lee Smith, overpowered two LAPD cops, Ian Campbell and Karl Hettinger, at gun point, disarmed both of their weapons and drove them to a remote onion field near Bakersfield, Calif., where they executed both officers. Campbell was shot and killed, and his body was dumped alongside a dirt road. Hettinger managed to escape, and it was his testimony that led to the arrest and conviction of this deadly duo and put both on death row. However, in their infinite wisdom, the state of California declared the death penalty unconstitutional, and both Powell and Smith were re-sentenced to life with the possibility of parole.
Smith, who ironically was on parole when he murdered Campbell, was paroled again in 1982. He spent the next 25 years in and out of the California prison system until he died in 2007. Powell has yet to be paroled; however he comes up again in 2013.
Hettinger died a few years ago. He was 59. But his life post-Onion Field was anything but enjoyable. Not only did he have to withstand the horror of watching his partner get executed, he was encouraged by the powers that be at the LAPD back in the 1960s to relive the experience almost daily by standing up at roll calls, giving classes on how his mistake of being disarmed allowed him and his partner to be taken hostage and his partner killed. The intervening years brought numerous trials and appeals, all taking an emotional toll on Hettinger, as he dutifully testified at each and every one.
One of the last classes Hettinger gave before he died was to the thousands of officers who attended the Calibre Press Inc. Street Survival Seminars, which I had the pleasure and honor of teaching from 1989 to 2000. But this time, the testimony was Hettinger s choice. For the first time since the March 6, 1963, kidnapping and murder, he accompanied Calibre Press Inc. s co-founder Denny Anderson to the original onion field near Bakersfield for a private filming and spoke at length about the incident and the trauma the ordeal brought to his life three decades earlier. In his own quiet, yet compelling way, he not only recalled the incident in great detail, but additionally the strategies he used to cope with the trauma the incident caused him in the years that followed.
In listening to his recitation and watching his face on film during the blocks of instruction I presented on critical incident aftermath, I couldn t help but feel the pain Hettinger endured throughout the 30-plus years that had passed since the incident. In a way, Hettinger himself was serving his own life sentence in an emotional prison without walls living every day with the memories of that night in the spring of 1963, due to what most officers and trainers might conclude was a tactical error based more on a lack of training than anything else. Smith got to do his time in spurts for murdering a police officer, his street time spent dealing dope and his prison time in the joint with three squares, a warm cot and all the other amenities the California penal system has to offer. Smith enjoyed 17 more years on Earth than Hettinger did and many more years than Campbell did.
Although Gregory Powell spends his days under the watchful eye of the California penal system contemplating his next request for parole, one really has to wonder: Was justice really served?