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Fate of ex-cops in Kelly Thomas case nearly in jury's hands

The fate of two former Fullerton police officers charged in the death of a mentally ill homeless man could be in the jury's hands by late Tuesday as attorneys complete closing arguments in the high-profile case.

Kelly Thomas, 37, died five days after a July 5, 2011 altercation with police, an incident that sparked outrage and led to sweeping changes in the college town.

Former officer Manuel Ramos is charged with second-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter in the incident, and Jay Cicinelli with involuntary manslaughter and excessive use of force.

While a 33-minute surveillance video of the incident, synced with audio recorders worn by officers, has been the centerpiece of the prosecution’s case, jurors will have to wrestle with the question of what caused Thomas's death.

Prosecutors with the Orange County district attorney’s office maintain that Thomas was left brain-dead due to chest compressions and other injuries he suffered as police beat him with a baton and a stun gun.

Defense lawyers maintain that Thomas died from a weak heart caused by drug use, not the injuries he sustained in the beating.

One of the trial’s final witnesses, Dr. Matthew Budoff, program director of cardiology at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center, refuted the defense claim that Thomas died of heart failure.

After examining CT scans and X-rays, Budoff said he concluded that the homeless man was healthy enough that he could have lived into his 80s.

Dr. Steven Karch, a forensic pathologist who studies how drugs affect the heart, testified that Thomas’ past meth abuse had damaged his heart.

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adolfo.flores@latimes.com

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