The state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation announced today the death of inmate Gregory U. Powell, who served a life term for 1963 kidnapping and murder of Los Angeles police officer Ian Campbell. Powell and his partner, Jimmy Lee Smith, had been pulled over for an illegal turn by Campbell and another plainclothes LAPD officer from the Hollywood division. The criminals commandeered the officers and drove them to an onion field outside Bakersfield where Powell shot and and killed Campbell. The other officer managed to escape.
The crime was chronicled by Joseph Wambaugh in his 1973 best-seller, "The Onion Field," and has remained a major episode in the annals and culture of the LAPD. Powell died Sunday of natural causes in the prison system's California Medical Facility in Vacaville, after enduring prostate cancer. He lived to 79 and had been held by the state of California since November 14, 1963. He was turned down repeatedly for parole.
The original death sentences for Powell and Smith were overturned when a judge threw out California's death penalty law in the early 1970s. Smith was paroled in 1982 and died in a county jail in 2007.
The Hollywood intersection of Gower Street and Carlos Street was named Ian Campbell Square last week, to honor the slain officer.
"LAPD officers have never forgotten the horrific crime committed by Gregory Powell and Jimmy Lee Smith," said Tyler Izen, president of the Police Protective League, in a statement today. "Gregory Powell was a cold-blooded murderer who avoided the death penalty, but he won't escape God's judgement. While Officer Ian Campbell can never be brought back, nor the damage and heartache caused by Powell and Smith be undone, justice was upheld when the parole board denied Powell’s request for compassionate release and ensured he drew his last breath while confined behind prison bars."