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Jury Gets Kelly Thomas Case

Jury Gets Kelly Thomas Case

SANTA ANA (CNS) - After five weeks of often-emotional testimony, the  trial of two ex-Fullerton cops charged in the death of a transient following a  violent arrest went to the jury today.

Former Fullerton police Officer Manuel Ramos, who is charged with second- degree murder and involuntary manslaughter in the death of 37-year-old Kelly  Thomas, is the first law enforcement officer in the history of Orange County to  be charged with a homicide.

Former Cpl. Jay Cicinelli, a former LAPD officer, is charged with  involuntary manslaughter and the use of excessive force in Thomas' July 5, 2011  arrest.

Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas concluded his rebuttal  argument today, emphasizing that his case against the two officers is not a  reflection on law enforcement in general in Orange County.

``We have great law enforcement in Orange County,'' Rackauckas said.  ``We have professional police officers who do their job day in and day out.  This case was put together by good police officers doing their job. ... This is  not an indictment of ... the Fullerton Police Department or the police in  general.''

``But a good police officer does not act in his manner,'' Rackauckas said.

Ramos' attorney, John Barnett, told reporters after the case went to the  jury that Rackauckas' prosecution was having a chilling effect on law  enforcement in the county.

``He is saying the entire Fullerton Police Department is wrong because  every single officer is trained the same way,'' Barnett said. ``If Mr.  Rackauckas is right, then everybody there is guilty of murder. Everybody there  is unreasonable, and that is not a very good argument.''

``... Nobody will put on a badge and go out on the street and risk their  lives with criminals and their life with prosecution for following what their  training responsibilities are,'' Barnett said.

Thomas was confronted at the Fullerton bus depot after someone called  police and reported that someone was trying to break into cars. The ensuing  confrontation, which was captured on video and audio recordings, became  increasingly combative -- with Ramos eventually pulling on latex gloves and  telling Thomas ``Now see my fists? They are getting ready to (expletive) you  up.''

That threat was the foundation of Rackauckas' legal theory that Ramos  set the deadly struggle in motion and did nothing to try to stop it. Barnett  called that argument as ridiculous.

``The prosecution's expert said that a threat with a baton is OK,''  Barnett said, referring to an earlier encounter between Ramos and Thomas that  did not turn violent. ``But a threat with a fist is not, and I don't think the  jury will believe that. ... It's a ridiculous position to take and that's the  position they took.''

The confrontation at the Fullerton Transportation Center eventually  included six officers. Thomas never regained consciousness and was taken off  life support five days later.

The defense wrapped up its closing arguments Wednesday, with attorneys  telling jurors prosecutors did not meet their burden of proof. Attorneys for  Ramos and Cicinelli, both 39, insisted Thomas died because of an enlarged heart  caused by years of methamphetamine use.

Rackauckas, who in a rare move for the county's top prosecutors, took on  the case himself and told jurors to use their common sense in deciding  whether the officers are guilty as charged.

Rackauckas mocked an argument from Cicinelli's attorney, Michael  Schwartz, that the defendant only made ``two quick jabs'' to Thomas in the  struggle. The prosecutor showed the video and slowed it down to illustrate how  Cicinelli's arm repeatedly went up and down toward Thomas.

Schwartz has said his client was trying to clear the stun gun's wire  away and keep Thomas from snatching his weapon.

Rackauckas noted that Cicinelli's training officer, Cpl. Stephen Rubio,  who said the defendants did not violate the city's policy or training,  testified that Cicinelli struck Thomas at least three times.

``And what does Cicinelli say ... in his own words,'' Rackauckas said,  referring to the defendant's comment after the beating, ``I got the end of my  Taser and I probably, just probably smashed his face to hell.''

Cicinelli was also recorded on digital audio recorders saying, ``I  (expletive) beat him probably 20 times in the face with this Taser,''  Rackauckas said.

Rackauckas again showed jurors a photo of Thomas' bloodied face in a  hospital bed.

``Those kinds of injuries don't come from just two jabs,'' Rackauckas said.

Thomas had been homeless for years and racked up a record for mostly  minor, nonviolent crimes -- 92 encounters with police and 27 arrests since 1990  -- though he did plead guilty in 1995 to assault with a deadly weapon for  hitting his grandfather with a fireplace poker.

Former Officer Joe Wolfe, who was indicted on charges of involuntary  manslaughter and using excessive force, will be tried separately.

A major issue in the trial was the cause of death.

One defense witness testified that Thomas could have died at any time  due to his weakened heart. Defense attorneys argued that there may have been a  problem putting a breathing tube into Thomas at an area hospital.

Medical experts for the prosecution, however, testified that Thomas'  breathing was inhibited during the struggle and that bleeding from a broken  nose also blocked his airways, leading to brain death.

 

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