John Chamberlain Murder Trial: "You're All Crooks"
Maybe it was because he'd been awake for 26 hours, but Jared Petrovich, one of five Theo Lacy Jail inmates charged in the Oct. 5, 2006 murder of John Chamberlain, a prisoner suspected of being a child molester, was having a hard time speaking clearly. It was 6:25 a.m. on the morning of Oct. 6, 2006, and Petrovich was being grilled by a pair of homicide investigators with the Orange County Sheriff's Department about the events of the previous day.
Yesterday, Petrovich had awoken with the rest of the 146 residents of F-West barracks, the low-security dormitory for non-violent offenders at the jail, at 4:45 a.m. That evening, after word spread that Chamberlain was a "chester," jailhouse slang for child molester, Chamberlain was savagely beaten, tortured and sexually assaulted by dozens of inmates and died of his extensive injuries, although Petrovich and the rest of the inmates didn't know that for sure when they were interviewed overnight.
Despite feeling groggy and mumbling almost inaudibly into the microphone about having a "hard time in the hole" the night before, Petrovich perked up when Investigator Ken Hoffman asked how he'd learned that Chamberlain (who was actually facing trial for child pornography possession charges) was suspected of molesting little girls. Petrovich had already denied having anything to do with the assault and claimed he was playing cards and socializing with various inmates in the dayroom the whole time. Did they tell you about Chamberlain being a child molester, Hoffman wondered aloud.
"No, I already knew," Petrovich responded. "The cops told me."
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As soon as he uttered those words, Petrovich presumably realized he'd just contradicted the previous several minutes of his interview with Hoffman, in which he at first tried to deny he was the shot-caller for the Woods, the gang for white inmates, and then admitted that fact but denied he knew any details about the attack on Chamberlain. But once it slipped out of his mouth, Petrovich stopped being reticent and answered every question that Hoffman had for him, apparently not realizing that everything he said implicated him in the crime that had taken place.
In Petrovich's telling--an account that he later shared in an exclusive interview with OC Weekly--the two guards, Jason Chapluk and Kevin Taylor, who were working F-West that day called him out of the dormitory at around 2:30 pm. They asked him two questions. "Do you speak English?" and "Can you hear?" and then proceeded to discuss the fact that there was a "child molester in J-7," a reference to the specific bunk assigned to Chamberlain. When the deputies excused him, Petrovich says he immediately told everyone in his cube, or housing area, and then sought out a guy named "Stretch," the shot-caller of the Southsiders, the gang for U.S.-born cholos, who predominated the barracks, and alerted him that a white inmate was about to get pounded for being a chester. He denies actively participating in the attack, but acknowledges, as he put it in his April 2008 Weekly interview, that he "lit the fire."
In that interview and a subsequent interrogation, Petrovich stuck to his story about Deputies Taylor and Jason Chapluk being responsible for starting the rumor about Chamberlain. In fact, the exact chain of events that took place remains a mystery, especially how it was that inmates not only suspected that Chamberlain was a child molester but that he preferred little girls. In an interview that homicide investigators tape recorded with Taylor, however, the guard recalled how Chamberlain had told him he was sexually attracted to underage girls. Yet there's no evidence that Investigator Hoffman or his partner Cynthia Edes, took Petrovich seriously--at least not when it came to his detailed recollection of his conversation with Taylor.
"You're all crooks," Edes blurted out to Petrovich at one point. "You all have credibility issues."
In court today, jurors heard extensive clips of Hoffman's interview of Petrovich, including one noteworthy passage where Petrovich told Hoffman that deputies had beaten him up on prior occasions when he failed to keep the white inmates in line. Jurors also heard prosecutor Ebrahim Baytieh read extended quotes from the aforementioned Weekly story, (selected statements both prosecutors and defense attorneys agreed to have on the record) in which Petrovich admitted his own responsibility for the assault, but insisted nobody wanted Chamberlain dead.
Although Baytieh repeatedly mispronounced my name as "Shoe," when it actually sounds like "Skow," it was a forgivable error, given that he did a fair and balanced job of recounting Petrovich's story, which cast equal blame for Chamberlain's fate on both guards and prisoners--a scale of justice that unfortunately hasn't applied to this trial, arguably because Taylor and Chapluk wore green uniforms rather than orange ones.
"Fuck," Baytieh concluded, speaking to the jury as if he were Petrovich, the hapless defendant, speaking aloud in his interview with me. "I'm being charged with murder for no fucking reason, honestly. I think it should be manslaughter. There was no intent to kill him. I never told the white dudes, 'Go kill this guy.' I said he's a child molester, but I didn't touch him. If Taylor isn't being charged, why am I? Just because he's wearing a badge doesn't make him above the law, and just because I'm an inmate doesn't make me automatically guilty."
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