Survivor of “Onion Field” Case Asks No Parole For Killer
BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (AP) _ Karl Hettinger, the former Los Angeles policeman who survived the ″Onion Field″ slaying of his partner 22 years ago, ended a self-imposed silence to speak against parole for the killer.
″I can picture it at any given time of any day,″ Hettinger said Wednesday of the killing of his partner Ian Campbell. ″I can resurrect it any time. I can’t drive it from my mind. I don’t think I ever will be able to.″
The kidnapping of the two officers in 1963 and Campbell’s death in an onion field 95 miles northwest of Los Angeles became famous through Joseph Wambaugh’s best-selling book, ″The Onion Field,″ which became a movie.
Hettinger, 50, an aide to a Kern County supervisor, said he called a news conference to talk about the case because he fears the state Supreme Court will order the release of Gregory Powell, ″the man who executed my partner and my friend.″
Hettinger outlined for reporters what happened on the night of March 9, 1963, when he and Campbell were kidnapped by Powell and his accomplice Jimmy Lee Smith and forced to drive them to Kern County.
″I didn’t want to give up my weapon but my partner had a gun in his back. He asked me to give it up several times. I did it reluctantly.″
Hettinger, his voice rising with emotion, told how Campbell was killed at the onion field as both officers stood with their hands over their heads:
″Powell then took Campbell’s life. He executed him with a pistol shot to the face, and when the unarmed policeman lay helpless and dying on the ground, he was shot again and again and again and again.
″I knew I was next. I turned away and ran down the road. When I looked back, they fired at me. I zig-zagged and missed the bullets.
″I ran across several miles of irrigated fields. I laid down in bushes. I found a farm worker plowing and got to a farmhouse.″
Although he testified at trials for Powell and Smith, Hettinger said he had to undergo a long ″healing process″ before he felt able to talk publicly about the case.
Each time Hettinger criticized the court or Chief Justice Rose Byrd, he was applauded by law enforcement officers and other colleagues who came to support him.
Powell and Smith twice were sentenced to death, but their sentences were reduced to life in prison with possibility of parole when the court declared the death penalty law unconstitutional in 1972.
Smith was paroled in 1982 but is back in prison on a heroin charge.
In 1977, the state parole board found Powell suitable for release, a finding it affirmed in 1978 and 1979. But intense public and political pressure persuaded the board to withdraw the parole date shortly before his scheduled release in June 1982.
Solano County Superior Court Judge Ellis Randall ruled in September 1983 that the board relied improperly on public outcry. The ruling was reversed on appeal last September, and the state’s highest court now has agreed to consider the case - a legal hurdle that could take a year or more to settle.