John Chamberlain Murder Trial: "Cold Blooded, Black Hearted Murderers"
Shortly before asking jurors to return first degree murder verdicts against the five former Theo Lacy Jail inmates charged in the brutal Oct. 6, 2006 murder of suspected child molester John Chamberlain, Deputy District Attorney Ebrahim Baytieh asked them to look one last time at the bruised, bloody and swollen face of the dead victim. The photograph had been taken at the hospital the night dozens of inmates, who the defendants claim were alerted to Chamberlain's status as a so called "chester" or child molester, by a guard, savagely punched, kicked, and stomped him to death.
Baytieh had just shown the jury several other gruesome photographs of Chamberlain's body on a large screen, the visual imagery accompanied by audio recordings of the various defendants alternatively admitting and denying their roles in the attack. "They deserve to be held accountable," Baytieh thundered after the slideshow ended. Then he stated that, sadly, he had no choice but to show the jurors four photographs that, while introduced into evidence, hadn't been shown to the jury because they are too graphic: autopsy images of Chamberlain's flayed-out chest and 43 rib fractures, as well as injuries to his anus and rectum, wounds he suffered while allegedly being raped with a pencil, plastic spoon and a tube of toothpaste.
"You have to look at them," Baytieh said of the photographs. "What they did was so inhumane, so sadistic, barbaric, cold blooded." He then called the defendants "cold blooded, black hearted murderers" who shook hands with each other after murdering Chamberlain, then bragged about their crime to the media.
At that point, Baytieh once again came back to the gruesome photographs he needed the jurors to see. "I was going to stand right here and show you the photos, but I don't want to," he said. "I feel guilty. I just don't want to hold them and show you the inside of a human being and what they did to him, because I know you are going to live up to your oath and do the right thing."
In excruciating detail, Baytieh used audio tapes and court transcripts to show how the defendants changed their stories about what happened, first denying any involvement, then gradually admitting they either kicked or punched Chamberlain once or twice, with the exception of defendant Garrett Aguilar, who never admitted assaulting Chamberlain, but whom many witnesses claimed did the most damage to the victim.
The defense team's closing arguments had focused mainly on the lack of direct evidence that anyone on trial intended to murder Chamberlain or that they directly caused the fatal injuries to the victim. Defense attorneys also alleged that guards Kevin Taylor and Jason Chapluk had greenlit the attack on Chamberlain and that the prosecution was part of a coverup. Baytieh described those allegations as "lies, lies, lies, lies, lies" and a journey into "la-la land." He pointed out that when interviewed by homicide investigators, only defendant Jared Petrovich ever implicated Taylor in the assault.
Despite Baytieh's dismissive treatment of the defense team's claim that their clients were being scapegoated for a brutal jail culture they didn't create and which was encouraged and exploited by lazy guards, it was clear he felt those arguments had possibly swayed some members of the jury. "I think as a society, we morally want to hold our police officers to a higher standard," Baytieh remarked. "I think the defense did a great job of attacking Taylor and Chapluk...I know you don't like Taylor," he added, whispering. "I don't either. But that's not why we're here."
At one point during Baytieh's hours-long Powerpoint presentation, somebody in the vicinity of the defense table exhaled loudly, as if in frustration, boredom, or both. "Sometimes the truth isn't easy to listen to," Baytieh remarked
Finally, Baytieh reminded the jury of the Irish proverb which states "May you have the wisdom to do what's right and the courage to do it." Pointing his finger at each individual juror, he stated, "I know you, and you, and you, and you, and you, and you, and you, and you, and you," he repeated over and over. "There's one thing I know you all have in common," Baytieh added, and then named three things. "You're decent, you believe in that oath you took and you will do the right thing...You are the last link in the chain of justice. You're it."
The jury is expected to begin deliberations Monday morning. If convicted of first degree murder, each defendant faces life in prison.
Get the ICYMI: Today's Top Stories Newsletter Our daily newsletter delivers quick clicks to keep you in the know
Catch up on the day's news and stay informed with our daily digest of the most popular news, music, food and arts stories in Orange County, delivered to your inbox Monday through Friday.