Opening statements are expected to begin this morning in the murder trial of five jail inmates accused of beating John Chamberlain to death at Orange's Theo Lacy Facility in 2006 because they believed their fellow inmate was a child molester.
Garrett Eugene Aguilar, 28, of Anaheim; Stephen Paul Carlstrom, 42, of Anaheim; Jared Louis Petrovich, 27, of Tustin; Miguel Guillen, 48, of Santa Ana; and Raul Villafana, 24, of Santa Ana, each face felony counts of murder and up to 25 years to life in state prison if convicted.
Facing the same charge and potential prison time is Eric Charles Miller, 25, of Huntington Beach. He has a separate pre-trial hearing scheduled for Nov. 11 in Santa Ana.
The Weekly, and especially my colleague Nick Schou, has covered the Chamberlain case extensively:
Schou's Jan. 27 piece was based on an exclusive interview with Michael Stewart Garten, a 25-year-old Santa Ana resident who is one of three inmates previously convicted of voluntary manslaughter in the case. Garten pleaded guilty Jan. 11 and was sentenced to 20 years in state prison. The others convicted of were Christopher Teague, 35, of Long Beach, and Jeremy Dezso Culmann, 27, of Corona, who were each sentenced to 15 years in state prison.
The following is from the Orange County District Attorney's office (OCDA) statement on today's opening:
On Oct. 5, 2006, the defendants are accused of targeting inmate John Chamberlain because they believed he was a child molester. Chamberlain was in custody on misdemeanor possession of child pornography charges. Inmates Petrovich and Villafana are accused of being the "shot-callers" for their respective racial groups. Guillen is accused of being the third in command in Villafana's group, and Aguilar and Carlstrom are accused of being the second and third in command of Petrovich's group, respectively. Carlstrom is accused of questioning Chamberlain about his charges and reporting back to Petrovich. After getting the information from Carlstrom, Petrovich is accused of ordering the beating of Chamberlain.
The inmates are accused of beating Chamberlain repeatedly inside a cell in the jail facility by punching, kicking, and stomping on him. Chamberlain was transported to the hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
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What that passage conveniently leaves out: how the inmates charged with killing Chamberlain came to believe he was a "chester," jailhouse slang for child molester. Petrovich, Carlstrom and Garten have told Schou in separate interviews that Orange County Sheriff's Deputy Kevin Taylor exposed and embellished Chamberlain's status to them and ordered the attack.
Taylor, who no longer works for the department, denied those allegations before invoking his Fifth Amendment rights and refused to cooperate with investigators. District Attorney Tony Rackauckas announced in 2008 he didn't think he could prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Taylor or other involved deputies had committed crimes, a controversial stance. Read the DA's take on the case here.
Opening statements are expected to begin at 9:30 this morning in Department C35 at the Central Justice Center in Santa Ana.