Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Cops to Stand Trial in Kelly Thomas Death

A still frame of the surveillance video shown in court.

A judge has ruled that two Fullerton police officers accused of killing a homeless man in a savage beating on videotape must stand trial before a jury.

Judge Walter Schwarm came to his decision after listening to witness testimony, watching a 35-minute videotape of the July 5, 2011 beating, and a review of the Fullerton police manual sections regarding “use of force.” Ofcs. Manuel Anthony Ramos and Jay Patrick Cicinelli will be the first on-duty police officers to be charged with murder in county history. No trial date has been set.

Attorneys on both sides gave passionate closing arguments earlier. Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas said police “turned a routine following encounter into a brutal assault on Kelly Thomas,” and that two police officers should be bound over for trial after they “crushed the life” out of the schizophrenic drifter. The prosecutor said that Ofc. Ramos showed “a cavalier and arrogant attitude” in his threatening of Thomas before the beating. Ramos’ attorney John Barnett disagreed, arguing that the officer was “using street language in trying to communicate with Kelly Thomas.” Ofc. Cicinelli’s defense attorney Michael Schwartz told the court his client should not be tried for manslaughter because Cicinelli was simply helping other officers in the struggle: “There was no crime committed here,” Schwarz maintained.

Ramos, left, Cicinelli, right.

Court began today with defense attorneys questioned pathologist Aruna Singhania, who has performed 11,000 autopsies in her career – including Kelly Thomas. Dr. Singhania previously testified that Thomas’ demise was caused by brain death, pneumonia and blunt facial injuries. Dr. Singhania was the final witness in the three-day preliminary hearing.

If convicted of second-degree murder, Ofc. Ramos faces a possible life sentence. Ofc. Cicinelli faces a 4-year prison term if he is found guilty of involuntary manslaughter. Both officers are our on bail: Ramos’ was set at $1 million and Cicinelli’s at $25,000.

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