As the first full week in the trial of the bloodiest jailhouse murder in Orange County history draws to a close, one thing is clear: of all the five defendants charged in the Oct. 5, 2006 murder of John Chamberlain, the Rancho Santa Margarita man the suspects believed was a child molester, none should be as worried as Garret Eugene Aguilar.
As the so-called "right-hand man" of Jared Petrovich, the young shot-caller of the Woods, the jail term for white inmates, Aguilar, who has reddish hair, went by the nickname "Redwood" during his stint in Theo Lacy's minimum security F-West Barracks that led up to the murder.
It was Aguilar, according to two eyewitnesses who have testified so far in the case, who led Chamberlain downstairs to a blind-spot, a corner of the room not visible to the deputies in the barrack's "bubble" or guard tower (who've admitted they were watching television and otherwise not paying attention) against the wall of a six-man housing unit called D-Cube. And it was Aguilar, the witnesses claim, who threw Chamberlain to the ground and started the beating that resulted in his death. As one of those witnesses, Luis Palacios, told jurors this week, Aguilar's attack on Chamberlain was nothing short of "ruthlessness."
Palacios told jurors how he first met Chamberlain, who was housed next door to him in an upstairs unit, just a few days before the murder. Palacios stated that he asked Chamberlain why he was in jail and that Chamberlain claimed he'd violated a restraining order. Later, Chamberlain showed Palacios how to play solitaire. Their only other contact involved Palacios helping Chamberlain open a carton of milk, so as not to hold up the chow line (an offense that could lead to Chamberlain being "taxed" by other inmates, which usually meant being held to a wall and beaten for 20 or so seconds between the neck and belt).
On the evening of the murder, during the barrack's last dayroom period for the day, when inmates can move freely around the dormitory, Palacios told jurors he took a shower and then went downstairs to play ping-pong. As he stood in line for his turn, he saw Aguilar walking Chamberlain down the stairs to D-Cube, where an inmate he recognized as Petrovich, as well as a few other Woods, were waiting.
"They started hitting him," Palacios stated, adding that Petrovich didn't join in. "People were going in and out...and beating him up. Just with their fists and feet, striking downwards."
The attack continued as groups of three to four people took turns and then left the area, he continued, but Aguilar lingered, continuing to land punches and kicks, although by now he couldn't see Chamberlain, who had fallen behind a low wall--all he could see was bodies contorting as if lining up penalty kicks, and that Aguilar was holding onto one of the upper bunks as if to gain leverage in stomping on Chamberlain. Asked to describe Aguilar's behavior, Palacios said it was "ruthlessness...it was pretty harsh." He added that he could hear "moans" and a "little bit of screaming."
After playing ping-pong, Palacios watched some of the Dodgers game that was on the television near the guard tower, and then he walked back upstairs to go to his cube. As he did so, he got a clearer look at D-Cube and noticed that Chamberlain was face-down on the floor. "He would try to crawl under a bunk," he said, but the other inmates would pull him out and "kick him, beat him up. All kinds of humiliation."
Asked to elaborate, Palacios continued, "Like, they would pull down his pants and smack him with their own shoe. Spit on him. Throw water on him to make him wake up."
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At that point, Palacios says, Petrovich noticed him watching. "He told me, 'Keep walking; don't look down,'" he recalled, adding that this is exactly what he did. "When is it going to stop?" he wondered.
The other eyewitness who has testified so far, Riley, also testified that he saw Aguilar leading Chamberlain to D-Cube and then immediately pushing him to the floor. "At that point, I couldn't see him at all, Riley said. He saw Aguilar and another defendant, Stephen Carlstrom, kick Chamberlain "once or twice" before another inmate noticed him watching and told Riley to "mind my own business," at which point he returned to his bunk. "I had a feeling this wasn't going to go well," he continued, so he went back downstairs to watch the baseball game.
More on Aguilar's alleged role in the Chamberlain death Monday, including testimony from a not-exactly-reliable-seeming jailhouse snitch who claims Aguilar confessed to sticking a pencil in the victim's rear end during the assault.
You can also read previous stories about the murder, including articles based on exclusive interviews with defendants, on OC Weekly's website.