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Kelly Thomas beating: Judge may rule on Fullerton officers' trial

May 9, 2012 |  7:02 am

 An Orange County judge is expected to rule Wednesday whether there is enough evidence for two Fullerton police officers to stand trial in the beating death of homeless and mentally ill man Kelly Thomas.

A coroner's pathologist testified Tuesday the police officers who pummeled Thomas during a violent encounter last summer in Fullerton caused his death by cutting off the flow of oxygen to his brain when the fight intensified and they piled on him.

Dr. Aruna Singhania, who told the court she had performed 11,000 autopsies, said the difficulty Thomas had breathing because of chest compression as the struggle wore on was worsened by facial and nasal bleeding.

The testimony came in the second day of a preliminary hearing that has orbited around a graphic and disturbing video of Thomas' being hit by police outside the bus depot in downtown Fullerton. On Tuesday, the back and forth in the courtroom centered less on the violence captured on video than on the medical question of what — and ultimately who — killed Thomas.

Singhania showed graphic images of Thomas' body, pointing out bruises and wounds, and said the chest compression from the weight and position of the officers is what caused him to suffer hypoxia, a lack of oxygen in his blood.

The pathologist said Thomas ultimately died of brain death, acute bronchial pneumonia and blunt force facial injuries. As images of Thomas' battered and heavily bruised body resting on a coroner's slab were about to be shown, his father, Ron Thomas, stood up and walked out of court.

He said he was unable to look at the gruesome photos. The reaction mirrored the response Monday when some spectators left the courtroom as the video played. The judge, after some in the audience groaned, stopped the tape at one point and asked those who could not stomach the images to leave the courtroom.

Thomas, who suffered shattered bones in his face, broken ribs and bruises over much of his body, was taken off life support by his family and died five days after his encounter with police. Officer Manuel Ramos, 38, is charged with second-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter.

Cpl. Jay Cicinelli, 40, is charged with involuntary manslaughter and using excessive force. Ramos faces a possible life prison term, Cicinelli four years in prison. Both have pleaded not guilty.

When the images of Thomas were flashed on the screen, Cicinelli didn't look up. Ramos glanced at the photos, but only for a moment.

Prosecutors maintain that Ramos escalated what should have been a routine police encounter into a deadly beating by threatening Thomas, first saying, "See my fists," and then adding, "I'm getting ready to f— you up."

During the scrum, Cicinelli can be seen on the video striking Thomas several times in the face with the butt of a Taser stun gun as officers pin him on the ground.

"I just smashed his face to hell," he can be heard telling a fellow officer.

Defense attorneys sought to upend the case by suggesting that emergency medical workers — not the police officers — caused his death by failing to promptly get tubes into Thomas' airway.


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-- Richard Winton in Santa Ana