AP
'Onion Field' killer dead at 76

Sat Apr 7, 11:51 PM ET

LOS ANGELES - Jimmy Lee Smith, the lifelong criminal whose role in the 1963 kidnapping and killing of a police officer inspired Joseph Wambaugh's true-life crime novel "The Onion Field," has died in jail at age 76, a state prisons official said.

Smith died Friday at the Pitchess Detention Center in Castaic, where he was being held for failing to report to a parole officer, Bill Sessa, a California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation spokesman, said Saturday.

Foul play was not suspected, but the cause of death was under investigation, according to the county coroner's office.

Smith was once sentenced to death for the killing of Officer Ian Campbell, and his parole after 19 years in prison drew public outrage when he was released in 1982.

His crimes were documented in 1973's "The Onion Field" and the 1979 film of the same name, both written by Wambaugh, a former Los Angeles police officer.

Smith, who was on parole when he killed Campbell, spent the last 25 years of his life in and out of prison. He was arrested again and again on various charges, usually drug crimes.

"Great. Wonderful," former Los Angeles police Chief Daryl Gates told the Los Angeles Times on Saturday. "He should have gone to his death in the gas chamber."

Smith and Gregory Powell were convicted of abducting Campbell and his partner, Officer Karl Hettinger, from a Hollywood street on March 6, 1963, after the officers stopped their car for an illegal U-turn.

After Powell disarmed the pair by pulling a gun on Campbell and threatening to kill him, he and Smith drove them to an onion field near Bakersfield.

There, Powell shot Campbell in the face. Hettinger bolted, running four miles to the safety of a farmhouse.

Powell was arrested that night and Smith the next day.

The two were originally sentenced to death but the sentences were reduced to life in prison with 1970s court decisions that temporarily barred the death penalty.

Powell, who remains in prison, has been denied parole several times.

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