Judge in Jailhouse Murder Case Failed to Disclose Conflict; DA Should Drop Case, Motions Claim
The case of the brutal Oct. 5, 2006 murder of John Derek Chamberlain, who died at the hands of fellow inmates at Theo Lacy Men's Jail who believed he was a child molester, is already sensational enough. Although only nine inmates have been charged in his death, both the suspects as well as Orange County Sheriff's detectives and prosecutors agree that dozens of prisoners participated in the vicious attack, which lasted at least half an hour and involved repeated punching, kicking, stomping, sodomy with a pencil and dousing with scalding liquid--all under the not-so-watchful eyes of jail guards, who later acknowledged they were just 30 feet away, watching television, playing Nintendo and texting their girlfriends.
And then there's the testimony--provided by several witnesses and bolstered by other evidence--that Chamberlain, who had been arrested a few weeks earlier on charges of possessing child pornography, knew his life was in danger and asked guards to relocate him on the day he died, only to have one of those guards, Deputy Kevin Taylor, allegedly tell the white "shot-caller" in the barracks where he was housed that Chamberlain was a child molester. That shot-caller, Jared Petrovich, previously shared his story about Taylor with the Weekly here, and now, along with the other inmates charged in the murder, he faces life in prison.
But now the case is getting even more bizarre. According to a motion filed on Jan. 22 by Keith Davidson, Petrovich's attorney, Judge James A. Stotler has a conflict of interest in this case and should immediately remove himself from it. On Jan. 8, more than a year after being assigned to the case, Stotler informed Davidson and other attorneys that he used to be a client of Al Stokke, the attorney representing defendant Michael Garten, one of the inmates being charged in Chamberlain's murder. Davidson's motion argues that this presents a major problem for his client because Garten provides key testimony against Petrovich.
As Petrovich previously told the Weekly, he acknowledges telling other inmates that Chamberlain was a child molester and specifically, that Deputy Taylor wanted them to assault the inmate that evening, but only to injure him between the waist and neck. Garten and other inmates corroborate that claim. "Garten incriminates Petrovich when he informed authorities that Petrovich lied when he claimed he never touched Chamberlain in the deadly attack," the motion states, as well as when "Garten incriminatingly told authorities that Petrovich was minimizing is involvement in the attack and events leading up to it."
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"Petrovich is alleging that there is either judicial partiality or a substantial likelihood of that the public would perceive judicial partiality by Stotler because of his longstanding relationship with Stokke and the fact that he was formerly represented by Stokke," Davidson told the Weekly this morning. "And the fact that makes this whole thing sour is Stokke has been representing Garten for 13 months and only now does Stotler come forward and say 'Oh, by the way, I happen to have an attorney-client relationship with one of the lawyers and you should know this.' This leaves my client and my client's family with a sense that they are not being treated fairly." Davidson added that attorneys for Chamberlain murder defendants Eric Miller and Stephen Carlstrom planned to join his motion to have Stotler remove himself from the case.
Reached by phone today, Stokke refused to comment on Davidson's motion, citing attorney-client privilege--the client in question being, of course, Judge Stotler. However Stokke did comment in detail on a motion he filed last week in the case requesting to have the Orange County District Attorney's Office taken off the Chamberlain case. The motion points out that in the Chamberlain murder case the agency decided to investigate itself. Typically, the DA's office investigates any homicides inside county jails, to avoid any conflict of interest. However, as Stokke's motion argues, then-Sheriff Mike Carona (now ex-Sheriff and convicted felon) ordered his agency to do the investigation, and the DA's office failed to do its duty by alerting the Attorney General, instead, opting for a special grand jury probe that, while unearthing overwhelming evidence of a cover-up, failed to indict a single deputy, instead charging three more inmates with Chamberlain's murder.
"[T]he acquiescence in the face of the conflict-filled investigation, the violation of Protocol, the subsequent failure of the District Attorney to notify the Attorney General, and the failure to initiate any proceedings against those who brazenly mocked the Grand Jury process is directed at one goal, the protection of 'its own' (i.e. law enforcement)," Stokke's motion states. "However, such action (or inaction as is sometimes the case) geared to protecting those who wear green (the color of the Sheriff's Department's main uniform) at the expense of those who wear mustard (the color of standard jail-issue uniforms) is 'outrageous' and it is my belief that such conduct on the part of the DA offends our society's fundamental assumptions about fairness, justice and due process of the laws."
Additionally, Stokke's motion argues that prosecutor Ebrahim Baytieh, who is handling the Chamberlain case, actually did participate in the Sheriff's investigation, talking on the phone with investigators on at least two occassions within hours of the murder, and even attended a meeting with investigators the next morning. "Joann Galinsky [sic, referring to Jo Ann Galisky], who was undersheriff at the time of the assault and for a short time later actual Sheriff of Orange County, testified before the Grand Jury that DDA Baytieh was present at a meeting held at 7:30 a.m. the following morning at Theo Lacy at which time inmate allegations that Deputy Taylor had 'outed' Chamberlain and/or 'green-lighted' the assault were discussed and that DDA Baytieh was specifically asked for his opinion about how the investigation should be handled. There is no known evidence that DDA Baytieh protested the Sheriff's investigation."
In his interview with the Weekly, Stokke stressed that his problem isn't with Baytieh. "It's the whole [DA's] office," he said. "Everyone has admitted that this was a faulty investigation, that it is a conflicted investigation and the reason is the Sheriff for the first time in 50 years decided to investigate its own people and the DA knew early on, and could have at least shadowed the investigation and didn't, and they should have gone to the Attorney General, who could have picked up the phone and told Carona to get his ass off that case, and they did not do that."
The most outrageous fact, Stokke asserts, is that prosecutors have "continued to use what they admit was a bad investigation," one so bad that "they had a special grand jury investigate whether it was a cover-up," which is exactly what Stokke believes took place and is continuing to take place now. "If you read through the thousands of pages [of the grand jury report] it is so clear it was a cover-up," he said. "They altered evidence, they hid evidence from the grand jury and the DA, and acknowledged that they committed perjury."
Judge Stotler is expected to rule tomorrow morning on whether he should remain on the case, but Stokke believes it will take more time before any ruling is made on whether the DA should be taken off the case and have it handed to the Attorney General for prosecution. Also pending is a motion by Stokke to gain access to sealed Sheriff's Department records, including access to personnel records. "The one personnel file they 'lost'--or at least major portions of it--which has never happened before--just happens to be Taylor's," he pointed out. "Make sure you put quotation marks around the word 'lost.'"
Some clues to what might have been in the file can be found in the testimony of his partner, Deputy Jason Chapluk, who was granted immunity by the DA's office. Before the grand jury, Chapluk not only testified that it was a routine practice for deputies to use shot-callers like Petrovich to discipline inmates, but that Taylor himself had a bad habit of using unauthorized force himself, "including the cruel and sadistic use of pepper spray," Stokke's motion states. "Deputy Taylor...on multiple occasions...fired a 'pepper ball' rifle into an occupied bathroom, an occupied dormitory 'cube' and/or into occupied barracks as punishment for minor transgressions such as inmates not returning to their bunks 'fast enough,' leaving their bunks against orders, or becoming too loud."
Taylor refused to talk to the grand jury, but during initial interviews with Sheriff's investigators before pleading the fifth, he denied he ever told Petrovich that Chamberlain was a child molester. Like Chapluk, he lost his job but has not been charged with any crime.
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