Thursday, April 17, 2014         

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Defense in California homeless death case to begin

By Associated Press


SANTA ANA, Calif. >> People who had violent encounters with a homeless man who died after a bloody confrontation with Fullerton police are expected to be called by defense attorneys for two former officers when they present their case Thursday.

Among the witnesses who will likely be called to the stand include the grandfather and mother of 37-year-old Kelly Thomas who will recount the problems they had with the mentally ill homeless man. Thomas died in July 2011 after a violent encounter with six police officers at a transit station.

Defense attorneys want to show jurors that Thomas had a history of violence dating back nearly two decades. They say he contributed to his death by resisting arrest.

Two former officers, Manuel Ramos and Jay Cicinelli, are standing trial. Ramos has pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter. Cicinelli has pleaded not guilty to involuntary manslaughter and use of excessive force.

Another officer will be tried separately on a charge of involuntary manslaughter. Three other officers were not charged.

John Barnett, a defense attorney for Ramos, has said Thomas attacked his 73-year-old grandfather with a fireplace poker in 1995. Thomas pleaded guilty to the unprovoked attack and was sentenced to nine months in jail.

Thomas' mother also took out a restraining order against him in December 2010 after he refused to leave her front porch, took off his clothes and urinated by the front door, court documents show. She also claims Thomas tried to choke her in another incident.

Barnett told jurors during his opening statement that since the 10th grade, Thomas had been taking methamphetamines that caused him to have spontaneous, violent outbursts. He said the case is about a man who made poor decisions that led to his death.

Prosecutors contend that Thomas was brutally beaten by aggressive officers, including Ramos, who put on a pair of latex gloves and allegedly told the homeless man, "Now you see my fists? They're getting ready to (expletive) you up." Much of the incident was captured on surveillance tape and audio recordings from officers' body microphones.

A trauma surgeon testified this week that the cause of death was the lack of oxygen to Thomas's brain that he suffered in the struggle with officers who held him down and kept him from breathing. Defense lawyers have argued that the death was linked to heart disease caused, in part, by his history of drug use.

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