A three-judge panel of the California Court of Appeals has ruled that five inmates convicted of second degree murder of a fellow inmate at Theo Lacy Men's Jail received a fair trial. The ruling, published yesterday, found that Judge David Stotler made a few minor errors in the trial of Miguel Angel Guillen, Garrett Eugene Aguilar, Stephen Paul Carlstrom, Jr., Jared Louis Petrovich and Raul Villafana, but that none rose to the level necessary in granting the men a new trial.
The Weekly has published numerous articles on the brutal Oct. 2006 murder of Mission Viejo software engineer John Derek Chamberlain, which took place inside a dormitory for non-violent, mostly drug offenders inside Theo Lacy Jail in Orange. "Blind Spot," published in March 2007, quoted from interviews with inmate eyewitnesses who claimed dozens of prisoners lined up to brutally attack Chamberlain, who was behind bars for possession of child pornography, after Petrovich, the leader of the so-called Woods gang for white inmates, told others that Chamberlain was a "chester," jailhouse slang for child molester.
In a 2008 article, "I Lit the Fire," Petrovich claimed in an interview from behind bars that he had learned of Chamberlain's charges from Deputy Kevin Taylor, who was known to reward inmates for enforcing order at the jail with sack lunches and extra recreational time. Subsequent investigations into the beating found that Taylor, along with two other guards, had been watching television and texting girlfriends inside their observation post while the beating, estimated to have lasted nearly half an hour, took place. He lost his job after contacting a witness in the Orange County District Attorney's grand jury investigation into the murder.
Lawyers for the five convicted inmates quoted extensively from the Weekly's reporting on Taylor's role in the beating to argue that their clients deserved a new trial in part because the deputy's behavior amounted to outrageous government conduct. However, the appeals court dismissed that argument.
"We begin by acknowledging appellants' point the DA Report demonstrates . . . deputies in [Theo Lacy Jail] engaged in abhorrent conduct and were derelict in their duties," yesterday's ruling states. "And we recognize that because of the extreme nature of their conduct, which violated the public trust and the spirit of what we expect from those we entrust to enforce the law, it is unreasonable, nay impossible, to find a case analogous to the case we have before us."
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That said, the court ruled that, while a "truly independent investigation may have implicated Taylor [and other guards]," it is up to prosecutors to decide who to charge and regardless of whether the DA had charged Taylor with any crime, this "would not have exonerated appellants."
All five inmates will continue to serve sentences of 15 years to life, except for Guillen, who because of prior felony convictions, was sentenced to 20 years to life.