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Kelly Thomas trial: Doctor's testimony contradicts coroner

A doctor's testimony contradicts the coroner's findings that Kelly Thomas died from chest compression and facial injuries.
December 16, 2013 12:00:00 AM PST
A Fullerton police sergeant and a UC San Diego physician testified Monday in the trial of two former Fullerton police officers charged in the beating death of Kelly Thomas, a mentally ill homeless man.

Fullerton Police Sergeant Kevin Craig has been with the force for 17 years. He's known both defendants, Manuel Ramos and Jay Cicinelli, for quite a while.

Former officer Ramos is charged with second-degree murder, and former corporal Cicinelli is charged with involuntary manslaughter. Kelly Thomas died five days after the confrontation that ensued after he was stopped for questioning at a Fullerton transit station.

Craig arrived on the scene of the confrontation on July 5, 2011, after his officers made three "code 3" calls for help, something he says he had never experienced before.

Craig testified he saw Cicinelli hit Thomas in the face with his Taser, and that Thomas was bloody but continued to fight. Craig later heard Cicinelli say he had run out of options.

Another witness, Dr. Gary Vilke, testified that neither blunt force trauma nor chest compression caused Thomas's death. The fact Thomas could talk shows he could breathe, Vilke said. The UC San Diego physician's testimony contradicts the Orange County coroner's findings that Thomas died from a lack of oxygen to the brain caused by chest compression and facial injuries.

Under cross-examination, Vilke admitted weight on a person's body can restrict breathing. But even when Thomas's speech seemed slower, Dr. Vilke says he's still not in respiratory distress.

"He's still moving air, he's still conscious, still has a pulse," said Vilke.

Vilke says Thomas flat-lined in the ambulance.

Hospital records show a tube placed down his windpipe to help him breathe had been pushed too far. The defense implied medical treatment could have played a part in Thomas's death.

Dr. Vilke could not say exactly what caused Thomas's death, only that it was not due to blunt force trauma or chest compression.

The trial is scheduled to continue Tuesday.