The words and actions of Deputy Kevin Taylor, the guard that inmates accuse of spreading the rumor that John Chamberlain was a child molester on the day he was beaten to death, have so far played only a background role in the trial of the five former Theo Lacy Jail prisoners charged in the brutal murder. But late yesterday, Taylor's alleged involvement took center stage when Jerry Ibarra, who was serving time at the jail's F-West Barracks on Oct. 5, 2006, when the crime occurred, accused Taylor of slapping and shaking the lifeless Chamberlain several minutes after the attack, clearly displeased that he appeared to be dead.
Taylor, Ibarra testified, then stated to several inmates that were standing nearby the body, “I didn't say to kill him.”
Although Ibarra was present in the barracks when dozens of inmates mercilessly punched, kicked and stomped Chamberlain to death, urinated on him, allegedly inserted a spoon and pencil into his rectum, and doused him with hot water to keep him alert, he told jurors that he didn't see the attack take place. Instead, he claimed, he was playing pinochle at a table in the barracks' day room with Jared Petrovich, the shot-caller for the Woods, the jailhouse name for white inmates, (Petrovich is one of the five defendants in the murder trial). Ibarra says that he only became aware that something was happening when a prisoner approached the table and said, “We need to put an end to this; the individual is still being taxed,” the latter word being a jailhouse euphemism for physically assaulted.
At that point, Ibarra testified, Petrovich then replied, “Tell Red to handle it,” a reference to Garret Aguilar, a Woods “torpedo,” or gang enforcer, who according to several witnesses in the trial repeatedly punched, kicked and stomped Chamberlain. Shortly thereafter, Ibarra says, Aguilar asked him if he knew CPR. Because he had worked for 12 years in a funeral home, Ibarra did know CPR and agreed to follow Aguilar to D-Cube where he saw Chamberlain in a pool of what appeared to be blood mixed with water, leaning lifelessly against a bunk. Ibarra says he refused to attempt to resuscitate Chamberlain because Chamberlain's neck appeared to be broken and the area looked like a crime scene.
“You need to call man down,” Ibarra says he told Aguilar. “We need to have an emergency medical technician right away.”
Ibarra says he and Aguilar returned to the card table and Aguilar began “frantically” waving his arms, trying for several minutes to signal “man down,” until Deputy Taylor finally entered the dayroom. Taylor, Ibarra says, calmly walked over to D-Cube and ordered all the prisoners to return to their bunks. As Ibarra walked up the stairs to his cube, which had a direct view of the blind spot downstairs where Chamberlain was attacked, he claims he looked down and saw Taylor trying to revive the victim.
“He slapped the man who was on the ground,” Ibarra told jurors. “He appeared to pick him up and gave him a jolt and then dropped him against the wall and yelled 'dayroom's closed.'” Taylor, Ibarra also claimed, appeared to be angry about Chamberlain's apparent death. “I didn't say to kill the guy,” Ibarra says Taylor stated. “That's what I heard Mr. Taylor say.”
When everyone had returned to their bunks, Ibarra added, Taylor instructed the prisoners to lay down on their stomachs and face the wall, something that Ibarra claimed was commonly done when guards didn't want inmates to be able to see anything.
It's unclear whether jurors will believe Ibarra's version of events. Prosecutor Keith Bogardus repeatedly confronted Ibarra with the fact that his story has changed significantly over the course of his several interviews with homicide investigators as well as prosecutors and defense attorneys in the murder trial. For example, in his initial interviews, Ibarra denied ever going into D-Cube and never mentioned anything about Taylor. Bogardus also forced Ibarra to acknowledge that he only began telling defense investigators about Taylor's alleged actions after he was housed next to Aguilar behind bars about three months ago.
Bogardus also confronted Ibarra with his lengthy rap sheet which includes a conviction of lying to police about his identity. But Ibarra explained his evolving story by pointing out that in his initial interviews with investigators in the hours after the murder, he didn't have an attorney present and was afraid of saying he witnessed anything. In fact, Ibarra, who is currently being held on drug-related charges, told jurors that he is still afraid for speaking “the truth” about Chamberlain's murder. “I feel fearful of going back in the jail and being taxed for telling the truth about what happened and for something that I shouldn't even be on the stand for,” he explained.
Under cross-examination by Keith Davidson, Petrovich's attorney, Ibarra also made reference to the fact that on certain occasions when a new inmate was introduced into the barracks, deputies would blast the Guns and Roses song “Sweet Child of Mine,” on the barracks loudspeaker. Davidson tried to ask Ibarra whether there was any commonality in the type of prisoners subjected to this treatment, but prosecutors objected, and Ibarra was unable to answer, although given the song's title, the implication is that the song was used to signal to inmates that the new prisoner was a suspected child molester.
But Davidson was able to get Ibarra to state that he saw Petrovich walk into the barracks from the outside courtyard shortly after being summoned to the area by Taylor several hours before Chamberlain's murder and not long after Taylor allegedly became aware that Chamberlain's attorney wanted his client moved out of the barracks because he feared for his life. Petrovich has consistently claimed since his first interview with investigators, as well as in an exclusive interview with OC Weekly, that it was during this meeting that Taylor told him Chamberlain was a suspected child molester and instructed him to see to it that Chamberlain was punished.
“He was coming from right outside the door of F Barracks,” Ibarra told the jury. “He was outside with Deputy Taylor.”