Media Fail: Code Of Silence Obeyed in Brutal OC Jailhouse Murder Trial

On Monday, Aug. 8, opening arguments began in the long-awaited trial of five Theo Lacy Jail inmates charged with the brutal October 2006 murder of John Chamberlain, a Rancho Santa Margarita software engineer awaiting trial on child pornography charges. Along with a host of local radio and television networks, what's left of the daily print media in Southern California–the Associated Press, Los Angeles Times, and Orange County Register–all penned stories bringing readers up to speed on the case.

“Inmates Accused of Killing Prisoner They Mistook For Molester,” headlined the Times story, referring to the fact that prosecutors argue the inmates beat Chamberlain to death, not because he'd been busted with child porn, which was true, but because they thought he was an actual child molester.

So far, so good. But just how did the inmates come to believe this claim?

Well, according to a report prepared by prosecutors, inmates somehow became suspicious of Chamberlain, and then made “anonymous calls to the Orange County Sheriff's Department” seeking to determine why he'd been arrested. While the article contains a few sentences about how the inmates subsequently confronted Chamberlain and beat him to death, the story never really probes where their suspicions began.

Specifically, despite the fact that several of the defendants have consistently claimed that Deputy Kevin Taylor, who they say routinely ordered jailhouse beatings and rewarded inmates who carried them out, told them Chamberlain was a child molester, Taylor's name doesn't appear even once in the Times story.

You can read an archive of my coverage of the Chamberlain murder case, as well as interviews with some of the defendants here, where you can also learn how Chamberlain had begged jail authorities to move him out of Taylor's jurisdiction the day he died. (Taylor, who refused to cooperate with the DA's investigation of Chamberlain's death no longer works for the Sheriff's department.)

The closest the Times came to mentioning any of this comes near the end of the article: “The district attorney's report concluded that Chamberlain's death could have been prevented if existing policies and procedures at the jail had been followed, but charges were only filed against the inmates.”

The AP also wrote a story about the trial on Monday, and also didn't mention Taylor, although it does mention the fact that a “criminal grand jury found that deputies at the facility sent personal text messages and watched TV while Chamberlain was beaten.” And by “beaten,” we assume the AP actually meant to say that Chamberlain was beaten just a few dozen yards away from, and in nearly full view of, their observation post.

Only the OC Register mentioned Taylor by name, quoting from prosecutor Ebrahim Baytieh, who told jurors opening day that the inmates are naming him only to shift blame from themselves. (Notice Baytieh isn't saying what the inmates claim about Taylor isn't true.) Taylor, the Reg adds, “invoked his Fifth Amendment right not to testify at the trial” but that Taylor's partner, Deputy Jason Chapluk, whom inmates claim witnessed Taylor informing defendant Jared Petrovich that Chamberlain was a child molester, “is expected to take the stand.”

Chapluk may testify as early as next Monday, Aug. 15. Stay tuned to see what if anything he has to say about Taylor.

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