Judge in Jailhouse Murder Case Failed to Disclose Conflict; DA Should Drop Case, Motions Claim

Categories: Breaking News
Jared Petrovich

The case of the brutal Oct. 5, 2006 murder of John Derek Chamberlain, who died at the hands of fellow inmates at Theo Lacy Men's Jail who believed he was a child molester, is already sensational enough. Although only nine inmates have been charged in his death, both the suspects as well as Orange County Sheriff's detectives and prosecutors agree that dozens of prisoners participated in the vicious attack, which lasted at least half an hour and involved repeated punching, kicking, stomping, sodomy with a pencil and dousing with scalding liquid--all under the not-so-watchful eyes of jail guards, who later acknowledged they were just 30 feet away, watching television, playing Nintendo and texting their girlfriends.

And then there's the testimony--provided by several witnesses and bolstered by other evidence--that Chamberlain, who had been arrested a few weeks earlier on charges of possessing child pornography, knew his life was in danger and asked guards to relocate him on the day he died, only to have one of those guards, Deputy Kevin Taylor, allegedly tell the white "shot-caller" in the barracks where he was housed that Chamberlain was a child molester. That shot-caller, Jared Petrovich, previously shared his story about Taylor with the Weekly here, and now, along with the other inmates charged in the murder, he faces life in prison.

But now the case is getting even more bizarre. According to a motion filed on Jan. 22 by Keith Davidson, Petrovich's attorney, Judge James A. Stotler has a conflict of interest in this case and should immediately remove himself from it. On Jan. 8, more than a year after being assigned to the case, Stotler informed Davidson and other attorneys that he used to be a client of Al Stokke, the attorney representing defendant Michael Garten, one of the inmates being charged in Chamberlain's murder. Davidson's motion argues that this presents a major problem for his client because Garten provides key testimony against Petrovich.

As Petrovich previously told the Weekly, he acknowledges telling other inmates that Chamberlain was a child molester and specifically, that Deputy Taylor wanted them to assault the inmate that evening, but only to injure him between the waist and neck. Garten and other inmates corroborate that claim. "Garten incriminates Petrovich when he informed authorities that Petrovich lied when he claimed he never touched Chamberlain in the deadly attack," the motion states, as well as when "Garten incriminatingly told authorities that Petrovich was minimizing is involvement in the attack and events leading up to it."

"Petrovich is alleging that there is either judicial partiality or a substantial likelihood of that the public would perceive judicial partiality by Stotler because of his longstanding relationship with Stokke and the fact that he was formerly represented by Stokke," Davidson told the Weekly this morning. "And the fact that makes this whole thing sour is Stokke has been representing Garten for 13 months and only now does Stotler come forward and say 'Oh, by the way, I happen to have an attorney-client relationship with one of the lawyers and you should know this.' This leaves my client and my client's family with a sense that they are not being treated fairly." Davidson added that attorneys for Chamberlain murder defendants Eric Miller and Stephen Carlstrom planned to join his motion to have Stotler remove himself from the case.

Reached by phone today, Stokke refused to comment on Davidson's motion, citing attorney-client privilege--the client in question being, of course, Judge Stotler. However Stokke did comment in detail on a motion he filed last week in the case requesting to have the Orange County District Attorney's Office taken off the Chamberlain case. The motion points out that in the Chamberlain murder case the agency decided to investigate itself. Typically, the DA's office investigates any homicides inside county jails, to avoid any conflict of interest. However, as Stokke's motion argues, then-Sheriff Mike Carona (now ex-Sheriff and convicted felon) ordered his agency to do the investigation, and the DA's office failed to do its duty by alerting the Attorney General, instead, opting for a special grand jury probe that, while unearthing overwhelming evidence of a cover-up, failed to indict a single deputy, instead charging three more inmates with Chamberlain's murder.

"[T]he acquiescence in the face of the conflict-filled investigation, the violation of Protocol, the subsequent failure of the District Attorney to notify the Attorney General, and the failure to initiate any proceedings against those who brazenly mocked the Grand Jury process is directed at one goal, the protection of 'its own' (i.e. law enforcement)," Stokke's motion states. "However, such action (or inaction as is sometimes the case) geared to protecting those who wear green (the color of the Sheriff's Department's main uniform) at the expense of those who wear mustard (the color of standard jail-issue uniforms) is 'outrageous' and it is my belief that such conduct on the part of the DA offends our society's fundamental assumptions about fairness, justice and due process of the laws."

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