Chamberlain before he met his executioners
Chamberlain before he met his executioners

The Face of Kelly Thomas v. The Face of John Chamberlain

Prosecutors in the John Derek Chamberlain murder trial yesterday displayed numerous morgue photographs of the pre-trial criminal defendant who was beaten to death by other inmates inside Orange County's Theo Lacy Jail in October 2006.

The pictures of Chamberlain's face and head were gory and disturbing. Indeed, after being punched, kicked, and stomped by "waves and waves" of inmates, his entire head had swollen and turned purple. Blood poured from his eyes, nose and ears. The lacerations and bruises on his forehead looked like someone had battered it with a hammer.

But--and here's the remarkable fact--when compared to the post-cop beating face of victim Kelly Thomas in Fullerton last month, Chamberlain's face looked far less destroyed.

Think about that.

Dozens of violent, angry inmates working unimpeded on Chamberlain for as long as 45 minutes could not come close to deforming his face to the same horrible degree that six, allegedly trained Fullerton police officers inflicted on Thomas' face** in a few minutes.

Your tax dollar at work on Kelly Thomas.
Your tax dollar at work on Kelly Thomas.

I'd hoped to share with you the two images side by side, but Superior Court Judge James A. Stotler, who is presiding over the Chamberlain case, doesn't just want to control what his jurors see and hear. Stotler has instituted strict orders blocking the public from seeing images already shown to jurors in a case with public policy implications.

Why is this an error?

Well, Chamberlain was savagely murdered inside of one of Orange County's most heavily guarded buildings and inmates have claimed that sadistic sheriff's deputies ordered the killing for their own enjoyment. That charge may or may not be true--prosecutors certainly don't believe it. But, in my view, the public has a right to fully learn about all the case details as they unfold in the courtroom, not after the case has closed and public attention has moved elsewhere. The always cautious Stotler, normally a sound, decent judge, went too far this time.

One final comparison in Thomas v. Chamberlain. The Orange County District Attorney's office is trying to send five of the men involved in the Chamberlain killing away for the rest of their lives. That same office hasn't yet decided whether or not to charge Thomas' killers, all cops.

(**It's true that Chamberlain suffered a worse beating all over his body. For example, the inmates sodomized him with jailhouse objects and fractured his 24 ribs 43 times.)

R. Scott Moxley / OC Weekly


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