The John Chamberlain Jailhouse Murder: One of the Accused Speaks

Stephen Carlstrom still can't believe he's facing trial and the jail's guards are not

By the time Taylor and the other guards in F-West found Chamberlain, Carlstrom says, he wasn’t breathing and had been partially washed with hot water in an effort by some of the inmates to wipe their DNA off him. According to Orange County Sheriff’s Department investigative reports, several inmates also showered to wash Chamberlain’s blood from their bodies. During the initial investigation, several inmates identified Carlstrom as the house mouse for the Woods. “And, my dumb ass, I admitted it,” he says. “I’m not a perfect angel. I did a couple of things I had to do. But murder? Are you crazy?”

Deputy DA Ebrahim Baytieh, who is prosecuting Carlstrom, Petrovich and seven other inmates for Chamberlain’s murder, acknowledges that many more inmates participated in the crime. But, he says, his office lacked sufficient evidence to charge either them or guards such as Taylor. “There isn’t a single person we charged where the only evidence is another inmate saying they did it,” Baytieh says.

For his part, Taylor refused to testify before the grand jury. He denied to sheriff’s investigators that he had anything to do anything with Chamberlain’s death or that the inmate feared for his life.

Adam Kidder

According to the defense attorney for Michael Garten, another inmate charged with Chamberlain’s murder, the DA’s case is inherently flawed because prosecutors allowed the sheriff’s department, which staffs and operates the jail, to investigate itself. “I think some of these inmates are being charged because they pointed the finger at a sheriff’s deputy,” Alan Stokke says.

“To say the DA’s office is trying to protect law enforcement is ridiculous,” Baytieh scoffs. “Every single allegation the defense has made about the sheriff’s department comes from us, from our own grand-jury investigation.”

On Sept. 9, 2009, Carlstrom filed a $100 million legal claim against the county, alleging deputies effectively ordered him and other inmates to attack Chamberlain. John McDonald, a sheriff’s department spokesman, says the claim has been denied and no lawsuit has been filed. He adds that Taylor and the other guards involved in the incident have left the agency, along with numerous other higher officials in charge of the jail, including two assistant sheriffs, and that several changes have been made to the way the jails are operated. Among other things, television sets have been removed from guard towers, deputies aren’t allowed to use mobile phones for recreational purposes, more cameras have been installed, and walls have been removed from certain areas to remove blind spots.

Carlstrom, who faces life in prison if convicted, isn’t optimistic about his chances once his case goes to trial later this year. “The defense is wasting its time,” he says. “I’m a patsy. This is so unfair, so corrupt. It’s a nightmare.”

This article appeared in print as "‘Murder? Are You Crazy?’ One of the inmates charged with killing John Chamberlain still can’t believe he’s facing trial and the jail’s guards are not."

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