Blind Spot

For OC jail inmate John Chamberlain, jailhouse justice served as judge, juryand executioner

"What happened was the deputy pulled over one of the guys and said, you'd better handle this guy because he has dirty charges on him," says one former inmate who asked to remain anonymous. The inmate claims that the deputy told a white shot-caller that if the beating didn't happen, inmates would not be permitted access to the F-West day room. "He said they wouldn't get any day room if they didn't handle him. The deputy said that and people wanted day room, so that's what happened."

Another inmate who also asked to remain anonymous says Deputy Taylor exposed Chamberlain and implied that he was fair game for jailhouse justice. "He told them as they were coming back from chow to take care of him, to clean their house," he says. It would be impossible, the former inmate claims, for the guards in the bubble not to notice what happened next.

"The deputies know they're beating him up because they told them to do it," he continues. "They can see him coming down the stairs. First, nine guys are beating him up and he's lying there half-alive. Now other guys go by, hitting and kicking him, urinating on him, pouring hot coffee on him. They got caught up in the action like a pack of wolves."

After paramedics took Chamberlain to the hospital, he adds, all 146 inmates in F-West were ordered to strip to their boxer shorts and submit to DNA tests. Each prisoner was interviewed by a homicide detective. "Two homicide guys interviewed me," he says. "The first words out of my mouth were: 'It's not the fault of the inmates. It's the fault of the system because you allow inmates to get beat up. The only thing you have to look forward to is day room.'"

After several hours, the inmates were ordered to the mess hall, where they stayed until 5 p.m. the next evening. Deputies passed out two sack lunches to each inmate and told them not to speak to one another. "The cops were calling us all killers," he recalls. "They called 25 to 30 of the fellas out there, and they never came back to the dorm. These were people who had a history of beating people up."

At some point the next day, one of the guards figured it would help pass the time if the inmates told jokes out loud. "These stupid motherfuckers were standing up, making idiots out of themselves," he says. "A guy just died. They allowed him to die. And they're telling jokes? I was fucking appalled."

Martin Heneghan, an attorney for Jared Petrovich, one of the six inmates being charged in the murder, says his client denies having any physical contact with Chamberlain. But Heneghan says Petrovich has confessed to being the shot-caller who spread the word that Chamberlain was a "child molester." On the night of the beating, Petrovich's mouse came into Petrovich's cell saying the deputies wanted to meet with him.

"Deputy Taylor set the ball rolling," Heneghan says. "My client is just a young punk, but since he went to prison, he was the shot-caller. And so he goes out, and Taylor, speaking directly at the other deputy whose name escapes me, clearly, purposefully said, 'Hey, do you know the guy over [there] is a child molester?' and my client just reacted. You are supposed to tell everybody. He just acted how he thought they wanted him to act. He is the liaison with the deputies. . . . There was never any intention to kill this guy. It just got out of hand."

Deputies in the bubble could see people walking back and forth behind the 3-foot-high concrete wall where the beating took place, but they couldn't see someone lying down behind it. Heneghan says Petrovich could also see people filing in and out of the area from his vantage point in his cell, where he insists he stayed until the attack was over.

Attorneys representing three other inmates charged in Chamberlain's death also maintain their clients are innocent of murder. Roland Rubalcava, who represents Christopher Teague, says his client's defense is that he threw only one punch and Chamberlain was still alive later on, when other inmates were hitting him. "I was shocked only six guys were charged," Rubalcava says. "It was at least two dozen people. It was horrible; it was uncivilized, but that's what happened. I don't see how they could figure which guy caused the bodily injury and caused him to die. It was an accumulation of injuries." Rubalcava also says that the homicide reports he's read mention Deputy Taylor. "What I've read is that Taylor was talking to another deputy, but he talks loud enough so that a third guy, an inmate, hears what he says," he recalls. "That's in the reports."

Frank Davis, an alternate defender, wouldn't say whether Eric Miller participated in the attack or not, except to say that if so, it would be extremely out of character for his 21-year-old client. "My client is 5-foot-5 and 100 pounds soaking wet," Davis says. "He is a small, petite, little guy with black hair and glasses. You definitely would not walk across the street to avoid him."

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