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California: Nine Detainees Charged in Jailhouse Killing; Five Sentenced to Life Terms

In January 2012, an Orange County, California judge sentenced two of nine detainees implicated in the jailhouse killing of a suspected child molester to terms of 15 years to life in prison. Three other detainees also were sentenced to life, while the remaining defendants received sentences ranging from 6 to 20 years.

Garrett Eugene Aguilar, 29, and Jared Louis Petrovich, 28, were convicted by a jury of second-degree murder in 2011, along with Miguel Guillen, 49, Stephen Paul Carlstrom, 43, and Raul Villafana, 25, in connection with the fatal beating of John Derek Chamberlain, 41, at the Theo Lacy Facility, an Orange County jail.

Chamberlain was awaiting trial on a misdemeanor charge of possessing child pornography. On October 5, 2006 he was punched, kicked, sodomized with plastic spoons, doused with scalding water and stomped to death by around 10 other prisoners, a short distance from the deputies’ station. One sheriff’s deputy admitted that, at the time of the beating, he was watching COPS on TV. Apparently the show was so riveting that he was unaware Chamberlain was being beaten to death until it was too late. [See: PLN, Jan. 2007, p.42].

Chamberlain reportedly suffered broken ribs, a punctured lung, and numerous fractures and contusions; a doctor said all of his organs had been injured. The beating, which lasted up to 45 minutes, was so severe that one of the prisoners involved in the attack broke his hand while punching Chamberlain.

At trial the defendants attempted to argue that Deputy Kevin Taylor had set Chamberlain up for the attack, by suggesting that he was a child molester. However, it was unclear, from a legal perspective, how such a defense would have worked. For while it is true that child molesters (and informants) are at the bottom rung of the social ladder in the ethically-compromised subculture of prisons and jails, the law does not make a killer any less culpable simply because the victim was reviled.

Four other detainees were also charged with contributing to Chamberlain’s death. Michael Stewart Garten, 26, Christopher Teague, 35, and Jeremy Dezso Culmann, 28, pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter and received sentences ranging from 15 to 20 years in prison. The last co-defendant, Eric Charles Miller, 26, received a six-year sentence in April 2012.

In sentencing Aguilar and Petrovich to 15 years to life, Judge James Stotler described their actions as “awful.” He urged them to reflect on the direction they had chosen for their lives – something they will now have plenty of time to do.

Villafana was also sentenced to 15 years to life, and Carlstrom received a similar sentence in March 2012. Carlstrom was reportedly identified as a member of the “Woods,” a jailhouse gang; Petrovich was allegedly a shot-caller for the Woods, while Villafana was a shot-caller for a Hispanic gang. Guillen received the longest sentence – 20 years to life – due to his prior criminal record.

Deputy Taylor and other jail employees lost their jobs but were not criminally charged. Orange County settled a wrongful death suit filed by Chamberlain’s father for $600,000. [See: PLN, May 2009, p.26].

Sources: The Orange County Register, Los Angeles Times, OC Weekly

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