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'Onion Field' Killer Smith Gains Freedom for Third Time

November 13, 1986|BILL FARR | Times Staff Writer

Jimmy Lee Smith, one of the "Onion Field" killers who kidnaped two police officers in Hollywood and later gunned one of them down near Bakersfield, will be on his way back to Los Angeles today after being released from Soledad State Prison.

"I talked to Jimmy as he was getting ready to leave, and I really think he can make it this time, if he is allowed to get a job at what he does best and is not harassed," said the Rev. Rex Burns, a Monterey minister who has been helping Smith prepare for the transition.

This is Smith's third release from prison since his conviction, with Gregory Powell, for the 1963 kidnaping of Los Angeles Police Officers Karl Hettinger and Ian Campbell and the subsequent slaying of Campbell in a remote onion field in Kern County.

The crime was the subject of Joseph Wambaugh's best-selling book, "The Onion Field," and was made into a movie.

Smith, 56, was first paroled in February, 1982, but was returned to prison four months later after disappearing and then testing positive for drug use when he turned himself in to authorities. He admitted using heroin.

He was again released after serving six months for the parole violation but was arrested in August, 1983, by Long Beach police on drug charges. He later pleaded guilty to two counts of selling heroin and was sentenced in June, 1984, to a possible term of five years. It is from that conviction that he was released today. He will remain on parole for 2 1/2 years, prison spokeswoman Doris Mahlum said.

Burns declined to say where Smith will be living in the Los Angeles area but said Smith initially will be housed by a religious organization and hopes to gain employment as a carpenter or cabinetmaker. Mahlum said Smith was able to earn special credits toward cutting his sentence in half by using his skills in the prison furniture factory.

Smith had tried to be paroled to some other area of the state, but the state Department of Corrections denied his request, Burns said.

"He just feels under a lot of pressure down there since the victims were Los Angeles policemen," Burns said.

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