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Kelly Thomas Evidence Rulings

Kelly Thomas Evidence Rulings

SANTA ANA (CNS) - An Orange County Superior Court judge issued several  rulings on what evidence jurors will hear about a homeless man's brushes  with the law when two former Fullerton law enforcement officers go on trial in  the in-custody beating death of the transient.

The evidence of Kelly Thomas' multiple encounters with police over the  years, dating back to an attack on his grandfather with a fireplace poker in  the mid-1990s, will be part of defense attorneys' legal theory that former Cpl.  Jay Cicinelli and ex-Officer Manuel Anthony Ramos did not use excessive force  while restraining Thomas.

Thomas' mother testified today that her son put a hand on her neck and  restrained her during an argument in December 2007. Cathy Thomas is expected to  testify during the trial, so she was called to the stand today so Superior  Court Judge William Froeberg could determine what jurors would be allowed to  hear in evidence.

Under questioning by Ramos' attorney, John Barnett, Cathy Thomas said  she did not recall telling police that her son threatened her with a butcher  knife. The officer who took the report will have to testify before the trial,  before Froeberg rules on whether jurors can hear about that alleged threat.

Cathy Thomas testified that she ``may have exaggerated my statement at  times'' to police, because she was advised by law enforcement that the more  often and more serious the claims, the easier it would be to set her son up  with mental health assistance.

When Barnett asked Cathy Thomas if her son choked her, she replied that  he ``put a hand on my throat. It wasn't real life-threatening ... He just held  me there in one spot ... for a couple of minutes.''

Three years later in December 2010, Cathy Thomas applied for a  restraining order to keep her son from contacting her while she stayed at her  parents' home in Fullerton. Kelly Thomas was sleeping on the porch and  urinating in public.

``I wasn't in fear of him,'' Cathy Thomas said, downplaying her claims  in the restraining order. ``I was told it would get him more help.''

Barnett told Froeberg he wanted to subpoena the police officer who took  the report about the 2007 incident to ``impeach'' Cathy Thomas' testimony.

Also, still to be determined, is how much jurors will hear about how  Kelly Thomas' drug abuse over the years affected him during his encounter with  Ramos that led to his fatal beating in July 2011.

When it was being determined whether Kelly Thomas was mentally capable  of assisting in his legal defense in the case of the attack on his grandfather,  a physician testified that his history of LSD and methamphetamine abuse  affected his cognitive abilities.

So far, Froeberg will allow into evidence Kelly Thomas' statements about  his drug use, but not his claim that he attacked his grandfather because he  thought he was bisexual and making a sexual advance at him. Kelly Thomas  pleaded down from attempted murder to assault with a deadly weapon in the case,  according to Cicinelli's attorney, Michael Schwartz.

Ron Kelly has contended that his son was diagnosed as schizophrenic.  Defense attorneys say there's no corresponding evidence that they are aware of,  and after the hearing Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas  sidestepped questions about whether Kelly Thomas' mental health will factor  into the prosecution's legal theories.

Schwartz was pleased with Froeberg's rulings on Kelly Thomas' criminal  history, saying ``it paints a full picture'' of him.

``The picture that's been painted for the past two and a half years has  been very misinformed and misleading,'' Schwartz said after today's hearing.

Kelly Thomas started using LSD and methamphetamine in the 10th grade,  Barnett said, and it ``ruined his cognitive abilities.''

Defense attorneys want to contradict any characterization of Thomas as a  harmless, mentally ill transient pummeled to death by police, who threatened  to attack him.

Rackauckas has said that Thomas was frightened when Ramos held his fists  up to him, threatening to ``(expletive) him up,'' if Thomas didn't comply  with the officer's orders, giving the transient the right to run away and  defend himself.

Froeberg also will rule later on how many photos jurors will see  depicting Thomas' injuries in the hospital. Prosecutors want to make the case  that officers continued to beat Thomas even though he was profusely bleeding  and unable to resist, while defense attorneys worry the images will enflame the  passions of jurors.

Attorneys will begin questioning prospective jurors on Monday, with  opening statements in the trial expected Dec. 2.

 

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