Stephen Carlstrom at his sentencing hearing last year
Stephen Carlstrom at his sentencing hearing last year
OC Register Pool Photograph

Stephen Carlstrom Sentenced In John Chamberlain Murder

Stephen Carlstrom was sentenced to 15 years to life in prison today for the Oct. 5, 2006 murder of John Chamberlain, a fellow Theo Lacy Jail inmate facing trial for possessing child pornography. He was one of six prisoners who were convicted of the murder at Orange County's Superior Courthouse last year. In January, co-defendants Jared Petrovich and Garret Aguilar were sentenced to 15 years to life for the crime and Miguel Guillen, who had two prior felony strikes on his record, received a 20 year to life term. 

Carlstrom was charged with the murder in large part because he was identified as being part of the leadership of the Woods, jailhouse slang for white inmates. His lawyer, Fred Thiagarajah, told jurors that Carlstrom never punched or stomped on Chamberlain, as other defendants were accused of doing, but had only kicked him once in the rear end, which could not have possibly contributed to the numerous crushed ribs and punctured lung that caused him to stop breathing.

Carlstrom did not testify during the trial, but prosecutors played audio tapes of his interviews with homicide detectives as well as video footage of his appearance on the MSNBC reality television show Lockup: Extended Stay, in which he described the mass beating of Chamberlain as something akin to "animals" coming in for "the kill." Prosecutors also displayed quotes from Carlstrom which came from my 2010 article about his role in the murder. 

Of the six defendants tried last year, only Raul Villafana awaits an April 13 sentencing hearing, at which time he is also likely to receive 15 years to life. Three other alleged participants, Jeremy Dezso Cullman, Michael Garten, and Christopher Teague, previously reached plea deals and are already serving lengthy prison sentences, while Eric Miller, who broke his fist in the assault on Chamberlain, will go to trial later this year. 

Chamberlain's murder brought into focus a culture of rampant violence and lax oversight by guards inside Theo Lacy and other county jails, which led to a grand jury investigation and a top-down shakeup inside the Orange County Sheriff's Dept. Charges were never brought against the deputies working the F-West barracks the night Chamberlain died, in particular Kevin Taylor, who was identified by Petrovich and other inmates as having been responsible for outing Chamberlain as a suspected child molester just hours before the attack, thus setting in motion the brutal, though commonplace, assault.

You can read the rest of my coverage of Chamberlain's murder and the subsequent trial here.

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