Former Officer Manuel Anthony Ramos is charged with second-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter and former police Cpl. Jay Cicinelli is charged with involuntary manslaughter and excessive force in the death of Kelly Thomas. Ramos, the first
The trial began in earnest with opening statements yesterday, when Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas -- believed to be personally prosecuting a case for the first time since 1999 -- told jurors the defendants killed a ``harmless'' homeless man on
During his 45-minute opening statement, Rackauckas told the jury that Ramos and the 37-year-old Thomas knew each other from previous encounters.
``This was a routine encounter for both Kelly Thomas and Manuel Ramos,’’ he said.
``But within the space of 30 minutes, Kelly was lying in a pool of blood, unconscious and dying.''
Rackauckas said that during the confrontation at the
``Cpl. Cicinelli recklessly and repeatedly beat Kelly Thomas in the face and head with his Taser,'' Rackauckas said, adding the defendant also used his weight to pin Thomas down so he could not breathe.
``This is an important case,'' Rackauckas said. ``In the decision you make in this case you'll be speaking as the voice and conscience of the community.''
Police went to the Fullerton Transportation Center the night of the beating in response to a 911 call from the nearby Slidebar nightclub that someone -- investigators later determined it was not Thomas -- was trying to break into cars outside the club.
Ramos and Officer Joe Wolfe -- who was indicted for involuntary manslaughter and excessive force and will be tried separately -- confronted Thomas at the transportation center while Wolfe went through a backpack Thomas had with him.
At one point, Ramos ``stood over him in this menacing manner,” made a show of donning latex gloves,'' held up his fists to Thomas and threatened to ``f--- you up,'' Rackauckas said.
As baton blows rained on Thomas, the transient repeatedly apologized and cried out for help from his father and God, Rackauckas said, citing a videotape of the beating. Thomas also repeatedly said he could not breathe, he added.
Thomas was pronounced dead five days later at UC Irvine Medical Center in
Ramos' attorney, John Barnett, told jurors that Thomas struggled with alcoholism and abused methamphetamine for years starting in the 10th grade and that the drugs left him a ``time bomb'' who would periodically ``explode'' into violence.
'`This is a case about a man who made bad choices in his life,'' said Barnett, one of
Ron Thomas, a former sheriff deputy, says his late son was diagnosed with schizophrenia. Defense attorneys say there's no proof of the diagnosis.
Cicinelli's attorney, Michael Schwartz, said the evidence will show Thomas had an ``enlarged heart'' due to years of drug abuse and that he lapsed into cardiac arrest when he over-exerted himself. The blows and chest compression did not kill Thomas, he said.
``A tragedy? Yes,'' Schwartz said. ``A crime? No''