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Kelly Thomas trial: Defense urges jury to look to evidence

An attorney in the Kelly Thomas trial continued closing arguments, saying prosecutors were appealing to the jury's emotions.
January 8, 2014 12:00:00 AM PST
A defense attorney in the Kelly Thomas beating death trial continued closing arguments, telling the jury that prosecutors were appealing to their emotions because they lacked evidence against the former Fullerton police officers.

"The future of those two men is what matters, and the law and evidence is what matters," said Michael Schwartz, defense attorney for former Cpl. Jay Cicinelli.

Cicinelli and former Fullerton police officer Manuel Ramos are on trial for Thomas' death, a 37-year-old homeless mentally ill man. The confrontation on July 5, 2011, was caught on surveillance video.

"This case isn't about emotion. That's why we have courtrooms. That's why we have jurors. This case is about analyzing the facts," Schwartz told jurors.

The defense criticized prosecutors, saying they were telling jurors "myths." Prosecutors say Cicinelli used unlawful excessive force when he smashed Thomas' head with his Taser. But the defense insists Cicinelli hit him twice after Tasing him didn't work -- and when Thomas tried to grab his weapon.

"That's what my client has been trained to do, control a situation, control a combative suspect," Schwartz said.

The defense says the officers followed police department policy, but prosecutors say Ramos, who is charged with second-degree murder, showed disregard for human life, alleging it started with his threat to beat up the transient with his fists if he didn't comply.

Ramos' attorney, John Barnett, noted that retired FBI agent John Wilson Jr., testified that Ramos did the right thing on a prior encounter with Thomas when he asked the transient if he had ever been struck with a baton in the officer's effort to get him to obey orders. Barnett argued that the fists were like the baton.

"If I do this," Barnett said raising a fist, "That's murder." Then holding up a baton, he said, "Reasonable."

"You have to decide if that makes sense ... Does it make any sense at all? No," Barnett argued.

Thomas died five days after the run-in. Barnett also reminded the jury that Ramos' trainer, Fullerton police Cpl. Stephen Rubio, testified that Ramos' actions were consistent with his training.

During closing arguments, Orange County Superior Court Judge William Froeberg interrupted the proceedings because someone had posted a photo of the jury on Twitter. The furious judge said the photo leaves one person on the panel identifiable.

"If I find out who took this picture, you're going to jail," Froeberg told the courtroom, adding that the photo was posted from the Twitter handle of Aaron Murphy.

The prosecution will give its rebuttal to closing arguments on Thursday, and then the jury will get the case.

City News Service contributed to this report.