On December 26, 2007, Miguel Guillen found himself in an unenviable position. An illegal immigrant, he'd recently returned to Orange County after visiting his mother in Mexico City. He'd only come back north because of the news that six white inmates from Theo Lacy Jail had already been arrested and charged in the Oct. 5, 2006 murder of John Chamberlain, a man facing charges for possession of child pornography. Guillen figured the case was closed.
But on Christmas Day 2007, Anaheim police pulled over Guillen for driving without a license and even though he'd been living under an assumed name, news of his arrest quickly made its way to the Orange County Sheriff's Department, and in particular, a homicide investigator named Ken Hoffman, the lead detective on the Chamberlain case, who suspected that Guillen might have a word or two to share with him about the murder.
In court yesterday, the ninth day of the Chamberlain murder trial, Guillen listened through headphones as a Spanish-language court translator helped him understand the English version of his Dec. 2007 interview with Hoffman and a Spanish-speaking colleague, Investigator Salcido. Prosecutor Keith Bogardus, speaking as Hoffman and Salcido, and a young DA staffer, Jaime Ryan, speaking as Guillen, recreated the jailhouse interview for jurors. Despite the monotonous slog of the performance, it provided a unique view into the mindset of one of the most unlikely suspects in the bloodiest jailhouse murder in Orange County history.
At first, Hoffman and Salcido asked Guillen simple questions about what he was doing when dozens of inmates attacked Chamberlain during the evening dayroom period just after evening chow. As he did previously when first interviewed by sheriff's investigators in the hours after Chamberlain's death, Guillen claimed he had nothing to do with the assault, and didn't even see anything happen. “We were playing cards,” he said. “I wasn't doing anything…I don't remember.”
The problem in Guillen's story, however, was obvious during that first interview: he was missing a shoe, and when investigators located it inside the jail's F-West barracks, where the attack occurred, they found a drop of blood on it that turned out to belong to Chamberlain. Pressed on this by Hoffman and Salcido, Guillen changed his story. “Because of curiosity, I passed by” D-Cube, the housing unit where inmates were lined up to kick, punch and stomp Chamberlain, he said. “There was blood and water…I think that is why it stained my shoes….I passed by quickly.”
The investigators weren't buying it, though. “The problem you have, Miguel,” investigator Salcido told him, “is other people are saying you were there hitting him…They were telling us the truth…What happened, happened and that's all…Other men were there also. You weren't the only one there.”
“I was there because I lived there,” Guillen offered.
At this point, Hoffman and Salcido began to directly accuse Guillen of hitting Chamberlain, arguing that of all the inmates in F-West only about 10 had blood on their shoes.
“If you had blood on your shoes from passing by, then all the inmates would have blood on their shoes,” Salcido reasoned.
“You even told another person, 'Look: I have blood on my shoe from when I hit him. I have blood on my shoes,” Hoffman added.
Suddenly, Guillen began to admit his role. “The reason was because all the people had to participate,” he said. “Because the white guy had violated an 8-year-old little girl….people were saying the white guy had raped a little girl…We had to participate.”
Guillen then explained that another Mexican-born inmate had in fact told him and the other men with whom he was playing cards that they had no choice but to line up and attack Chamberlain. When he entered D-Cube, Guillen said, Chamberlain was already lying on the floor, screaming in pain. When it was his turn, Guillen kicked Chamberlain, and then rather than use his fists, he took off his right shoe and hit Chamberlain with it three times on the legs and chest area. Chamberlain, he acknowledged, screamed each time.
Hoffman and Salcido continued to press Guillen, who steadfastly maintained this was all he'd done to Chamberlain. They also showed him photographs of other inmates suspected in the murder, but while Guillen admitted recognizing a few of them, he refused to implicate anyone else in the attack, something that clearly frustrated the two investigators.
Asked why he was only now admitting his role in the assault, when he'd already lied about it, Guillen appeared to show remorse. “Just so I wouldn't have any problems,” he answered. “I don't believe I'm a bad person and what I did wasn't right. I know I participated and it's better to tell the truth…I'm scared of being arrested, the consequences. Right now, I'm going to have problems.”
Why did you participate in the attack when not everyone did, the investigators asked?
“Because I was dumb,” Guillen said. “Perhaps because he molested the little girl.” Chamberlain needed to be punished “like spanking a child who does something wrong…Everyone wanted to hit him.”
The two detectives then informed Guillen that the rumor about Chamberlain molesting or raping a young girl was just that, a rumor. As far as they knew, it hadn't happened.
“Look you guys took a rumor, tossed it around, talking and telling everybody….” they told Guillen.
“I got girls, I got my ninas,” Guillen responded. “That's what I was thinking about: what if that happened to one of my girls….I need to give you a point that you need to understand,” he added. “I was afraid. I don't want to be locked up. You don't understand what it is to be locked up…I fucked up my life. “
The two investigators thanked Guillen for finally telling the truth. “I want to ask you a favor for me,” he said, asking that the detectives tell prosecutors he'd taken responsibility, in hopes of a lighter sentence. “Are they going to give me a long time for this?” he wondered.
“We're trying to find the total truth,” Hoffman answered. “That's my job.”
Hoffman's interrogation of the other defendants–those interviews were conducted in English–is expected to be played for jurors in the next several days. One interview they apparently won't hear is the one conducted with Deputy Kevin Taylor, whom several inmates have claimed is the one who alerted the inmates to Chamberlain's status as a suspected sex offender. Testimony in the trial has already revealed to the jury that Taylor and his partner Jason Chapluk, learned Chamberlain wanted to be moved out of the barracks because he feared for his life just hours before his death, which occured while the guards were watching television in the nearby guard tower.
Although Chapluk, who received immunity after being suspended from his job, testified in the trial's first week, Taylor, who was fired, refused to cooperate with investigators or to take the witness stand