Kelly Thomas Trial: Prosecutors rest case against former officers charged in beating death

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After just more than five days of testimony, prosecutors have rested their case in the trial of two former Fullerton police officers charged in the 2011 death of a mentally ill, homeless man.

The Orange County District Attorney's Office called 11 witnesses to stand in its case against Manuel Ramos and Jay Cicinelli, each charged with involuntary manslaughter in the death of Kelly Thomas. Ramos faces an additional count of second-degree murder. Cicinelli was also charged with use of excessive force.

On July 5, 2011, Thomas was involved in a violent struggle with six police officers, including the defendants, outside the Fullerton Transportation Center. He died five days later.

Many expected the prosecution's case to take longer, but Loyola Law School professor Laurie Levenson said a short case may have been part of the strategy devised by the Orange County District Attorney's Office.

""Seems like it has gone pretty quickly, " Levenson said. "If you look at high-profile cases, prosecutors have done best when they have been able to focus their case and get the most important evidence before the jury. If they spend too long presenting the case, jurors begin to wonder why, and the defense is better able to pick it apart."

The prosecution's case focused largely on a surveillance video of the struggle synced with audio from officers' voice recorders. At one point, Thomas is heard saying he can't breathe and calling for his father for help.

At one point in the video a man is heard saying, "I smashed his face to hell." Prosecutors say the voice belongs to Cicinelli. 

Kelly Thomas Beating Video

Key testimony came from a pathologist contracted by the Orange County Coroner's Office to conduct the autopsy on Thomas. 

Dr. Aruna Singhania testified Thomas died from a lack of oxygen to the brain brought on by blunt force trauma to face and head and compression to the chest.

Prosecutors also questioned Dr. Michael Lekawa, a trauma specialist at UC Irvine Medical Center who treated Thomas the night of the incident. He testified Thomas remained "comatose" from the moment he first saw Thomas until he died on July 10, 2011.

Lekawa also testified that he agreed with Singhania that the cause of Thomas' death was a lack of oxygen to his brain, due to chest compression and head and facial fractures that Thomas suffered during the altercation with officers. 

Defense attorneys allege Thomas was the aggressor in the struggle and died from heart complications brought on by years of drug abuse. 

During cross-examination questioning from Ramos' defense attorney John Barnett, Lekawa testified the injuries Thomas suffered don't normally cause death. 

Barnett also asked Lekawa if Thomas was able to speak during the struggle, didn't that mean he could also breathe? 

Lekawa answered "yes," and added, "But his voice gets slower. He is breathing some, but it's still inadequate."

Also testifying was Fullerton paramedic Ron Stancyk who said Thomas had been breathing on his own after the altercation but at a "slow rate."

Stancyk also said Thomas went into a cardiac arrest on the way to the hospital and needed CPR.

The defense will begin its case Thursday morning. During the trial last week, Cicinelli defense attorney Michael Schwartz indicated he would call expert medical witnesses to refute Singhania's cause of death determination.

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