Prosecutors say all five defendants have direct links to killing a fellow inmate. They are all charged with first-degree murder in what prosecutors say was a misguided attempt to mete out jailhouse justice.
But defense attorneys have a different take. In opening arguments Monday, they said prosecutors are trying to cover for a dysfunctional jail system by making scapegoats out of their clients.
The murder happened inside the Theo Lacy Facility in Orange. John Chamberlain, 41, was being held on a misdemeanor charge of possessing child pornography.
On October 5, 2006, Chamberlain was savagely beaten, tortured and sexually assaulted inside a dormitory area. He died as a result of his injurieis. Chamberlain's death sparked a grand jury investigation that revealed a jail culture where guards would allow inmates to discipline other inmates.
In court Monday, prosecutors said Chamberlain suffered 48 fractures to his ribs and severe injuries to his face and head, along with being sexually assaulted in an attack that lasted roughly 50 minutes.
A grand jury found that the three guards in charge of the barracks were watching television and exchanging text messages.
More than four years later, the five men accused of planning and participating in Chamberlain's murder went on trial in Santa Ana.
In court Monday, the deputy district attorney said the five defendants were part of a mob that attacked Chamberlain, thinking he was a child molester.
In opening arguments, lead prosecutor Ebrahim Baytieh said, "These inmates decided to act as judge, jury and executioner. They murdered a human being in the most inhumane manner."
"You can't lump these five individuals all together," said defense attorney Edward Munoz. "I think that there's individual responsibility that's going to be assessed as to each one of them."
Munoz is one of the five defense attorneys who were in court Monday. Munoz says the jail's dysfunctional environment kept innocent inmates from helping Chamberlain.
"And here what we have is conduct that amplifies the fear and the distrust," said Munoz.
On trial for murder are Garret Aguilar, 28, of Anaheim; Stephen Carlstrom, 42, of Anaheim; Jared Petrovich, 27, of Tustin; Miguel Guillen, 48, of Santa Ana; and 24-year-old Raul Villafana of Santa Ana.
Three other men pleaded guilty in January to voluntary manslaughter.
Prosecutors and the judge made clear Monday that the Orange County jail system is not on trial -- five individuals are on trial for first-degree murder.
The trial is expected to last three months.