Larry Mantle

Criminal charges in the death of homeless Fullerton resident Kelly Thomas

Orange County D. A. Tony Rackauckas took the big step of filing second-degree murder charges against one of the officers involved in the beating death of homeless Fullerton resident Kelly Thomas.  Thomas lived with schizophrenia and was apparently well-known to business owners and residents in the area.

Historically, it’s been difficult to convict police officers of murder.  Legal scholars tend to give law enforcement the benefit of the doubt when officers are dealing with a “non-compliant” suspect.  However, in this case, as the D. A. pointed out, Thomas’ inability to comply was likely due to his mental illness.  Thomas is also a very sympathetic alleged victim, which isn’t always the case in prosecutions of police.

This will be a fascinating case to watch, as Officer Manuel Ramos faces charges of murder and manslaughter, and his colleague, Corporal Jay Cicinelli, stands trial for manslaughter and use of excessive force. 

Jurors will undoubtedly see several videotapes of the incident, and also hear the audio recordings taken by the officers themselves during the incident.  In the past, we’ve seen widely differing interpretations of such recordings from the competing legal teams in the courtroom. 
What do you think will be the biggest challenge for jurors in deciding this case?

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