Christopher Teague and Jeremy Dezso Culmann, two of nine inmates charged with beating to death a suspected child molester inside Theo Lacy Jail in Oct. 2006, have pleaded guilty to the crime, according to a press release issued by the Orange County district attorney's office today. As the Weekly reported on Jan. 12, a third inmate, Michael Garten, has also pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter in the case.
Both Teague and Culmann allegedly struck the victim, John Chamberlain, who was awaiting trial for possession of child pornography, several times during an attack that lasted nearly an hour. They each received sentences of 15 years in state prison. Garten allegedly punched Chamberlain only once or twice, but he received a sentence of 20 years. According to prosecutor Ebrahim Baytieh, Garten received a longer sentence because he simultaneously pleaded guilty to an unrelated charge of extortion and because, unlike Teague and Culmann, he witnessed the entire beating from beginning to end and failed to protect Chamberlain.
More after the jump . . .
"The main distinction in our mind is Garten was present for everything that happened, from beginning to end," Baytieh told the Weekly. "He saw the victim deteriorate, and to us, it places more culpability on him than Teague and Culmann, who were involved in the beginning but could say that when they left, Chamberlain wasn't in bad shape." Baytieh added that while Garten told investigators and prosecutors that he lingered at the scene of the assault because he was trying to protect Chamberlain, other witnesses--and DNA evidence--contradicted him.
Both Teague and Culmann will have to serve at least 85 percent of their sentence before becoming eligible for parole, but like Garten, they will receive credit for the four years they've already served behind bars awaiting trial. "It depends on how they behave when they go to state prison, which is ironic because they are now being sentenced for getting in trouble while already behind bars," Baytieh said. "At the end of the day, we felt that for all three of these people, this was a fair disposition for them."
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Baytieh added that with the exceptions of defendants Eric Miller, who has cooperated with prosecutors since first being interviewed, and Miguel Angel Guillen, there is no plea deal on the table for the remaining defendants. That includes both Jared Petrovich and Stephen Carlstrom, who previously spoke to the Weekly about how the assault on Chamberlain began when Deputy Kevin Taylor, who no longer works for the OC Sheriff's Department, told Petrovich that Chamberlain was a child molester and made it clear he deserved to be attacked. Taylor later told investigators that while the inmates beat Chamberlain to death, he and other deputies were watching television in a nearby guard tower.