On Oct. 5, 2006, Andrew Corral, an 18-year-old who'd recently arrived at Theo Lacy Jail thanks to a probation violation, was sitting on his bunk in D-Cube of the jail's F-West barracks, when a couple of white inmates, members of the so-called "Woods," the gang for white prisoners in California, walked into the room. One of them was Jared Petrovich, who was 22 at the time and was the shot-caller of the Woods. A few moments later, the leaders of the two other gangs inside the jail, the Southsiders, made up of U.S.-born cholos, and Paisanos, mostly Mexican nationals, also entered the cube.
Petrovich began talking about an inmate who was about to get beaten up inside D-Cube, half of which was a "blind spot" invisible to the guard tower a few dozen feet away.
"This chester," Petrovich stated, using jailhouse slang for child molester, "he likes them young."
Petrovich added that the inmate, John Chamberlain, then awaiting trial for possession of child pornography, had admitted his sexual proclivities just moments earlier. Asked by prosecutors today to recall what happened next, Corrall, who was sitting in the witness booth today, testifying against Petrovich and four other defendants charged with Chamberlain's murder, at first tried to say he didn't remember. But when presented with transcripts of his 2007 testimony to the Orange County Grand Jury, he told the jury what he'd overheard. "They were going to beat him up," Corral said. "They were going to rape him."
A few minutes after those words were uttered, Garrett Aguilar, another member of the Woods, "dragged" Chamberlain into D-Cube, where he was subjected to a ruthless attack by groups of two to three people at a time who punched, kicked, and stomped on him, threw cups of hot coffee and water on the victim, pulled off his boxer shorts and inserted a spoon into his rectum. Chamberlain, Corral added, "was screaming."
After about five minutes, Corral, who had been sitting on another bunk watching the proceedings, grew uncomfortable, and went to the dayroom, pacing in circles before watching television. The attack, he estimates, lasted roughly 30 minutes. Then he saw Aguilar standing on a table about 10 feet in front of the guard tower, waving a "towel" or "white cloth" in the air for "four or five minutes" before two deputies finally left the tower. Upon discovering Chamberlain's body inside D-Cube, they placed Corral under arrest (apparently because he lived in the cube where the attack took place) and told the rest of the inmates to go back to their bunks.
Corral was never charged in the murder, which involved by his own admission dozens of inmates, only five of whom are now being tried for the crime. His testimony capped two days of mostly sluggish testimony that contained few surprises if occasional moments of humor. On Monday, Aug. 22, for example, the entire trial had to be halted because Michael Ayala, a witness who also testified to the grand jury and who is currently serving a life term for attempted murder at California's infamous high-security Pelican Bay prison, refused to take an oath or answer any questions.
"Can you tell me how old you are?" Baytieh asked at one point.
"No," Ayala responded. "You're wasting your time. I don't want to answer any of your questions."
Several hours later, Ayala, who after consulting with a court-appointed lawyer and offered an immunity deal, but who continued to refuse to take an oath or testify, was ordered to be held in contempt for the duration of the trial, which is scheduled to last until Nov. 17, meaning that he gets a nice vacation from one of the state's worst prisons. The next witness, Robert Mayfield, was serving a 100 day sentence for trespassing and was scheduled to be released the day Chamberlain was murdered. He told jurors that he watched several inmates, including Aguilar, punching, kicking and stomping on Chamberlain. He saw defendant Stephen Carlstrom hit Chamberlain a few times and the jumping up and down, as well as passing water to Aguilar, who threw it on the victim.
Under cross-examination by defense attorneys, however, it became clear that Mayfield saw the various defendants only striking, kicking or stomping on Chamberlain once or twice, with the exception of Aguilar, who stayed in D-Cube longer, and who (according to Corral and other witnesses, repeatedly threw water on him to revive him). And he testified that other inmates, none of whom are currently on trial, were more aggressive in their assault, including one who repeatedly kicked Chamberlain "field-goal" style.
Mayfleld said the attacks involved about four waves of people and that the final wave, which didn't appear to involve any defendant except Aguilar, was the longest and most vicious. "It was pretty disturbing," he said. "It was a mob mentality." Finally, Mayfield observed Aguilar waving for the guards' attention. Deputies Kevin Taylor, who was later fired, and Jason Chapluk, who was suspended but now works as a jail guard again, walked over to Aguilar, who pointed at D-Cube.
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"They were walking leisurely over to D-Cube like they weren't in a hurry," he told jurors.
At one point Petrovich's attorney Keith Davidson asked Mayfield whether he was surprised that the deputies allowed the attack to go on for up to 30 minutes without ever leaving their tower. "With regards to the OC Jail?" Mayfield responded, his voice suddenly flooding with emotion. "You want a truthful answer? No, I was not surprised."
"Why not?" Davidson asked.
"Because they just sit up there and watch television and play video games," said Mayfield.