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Convicted Killer Is Sent Back to Prison

June 28, 2005|Alicia Wittmeyer | Times Staff Writer

Jimmy Lee Smith, who helped kill a police officer in an onion field outside Bakersfield more than 40 years ago, headed back to prison Monday after admitting that he violated parole by possessing heroin.

Smith's attorney argued that the current offense isn't "the crime of the century."

"No, he's already committed that one," responded Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Denis Aichroth, who sentenced Smith to three years.

Smith and Gregory Powell were convicted and sentenced to death in the March 1963 kidnap-murder of Los Angeles Police Officer Ian Campbell, who was abducted at night from a Hollywood street with his partner and driven to a field southwest of Bakersfield, where Powell shot him to death.

Powell also fired at the partner, Officer Karl Hettinger, who managed to escape.

The crime and prolonged trial were the subject of Joseph Wambaugh's 1973 book "The Onion Field," later made into a movie.

Hettinger left the police force in 1972 and returned to Bakersfield, where he served on the Kern County Board of Supervisors. He died in 1994 at age 59.

Smith's death sentence was thrown out in the 1970s when the state Supreme Court determined that California's death penalty law was unconstitutional. He was given life in prison.

Powell is in prison, having been denied parole repeatedly. Smith was first paroled in 1982 but has been in and out of trouble over the years, including a prison sentence on heroin charges in 1986.

On Monday, Smith admitted to possession of heroin. He was on probation for the same crime when police caught him with a syringe last month.

Smith admitted to the violation because he wants to move on with his life, said Craig Osaki, Smith's attorney.

"Your honor, I'm 75 years old, I've got high blood pressure," Smith, whose date of birth indicates he is 74, told Aichroth.

Smith will serve at least 50% of his sentence before becoming eligible for parole again, said Los Angeles County Deputy Dist. Atty. Carol Rash.

Smith's lawyer said his client got the maximum because of the media attention to his case.

"He's just the guy on the street," Osaki said. "If he weren't who he was, he'd be looking at a drug program."

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