Closing arguments in the trial of two former Fullerton street cops accused of killing a mentally ill homeless man during a violent altercation will stretch into a third day before finally being handed to jurors.
On Wednesday, the attorney for one of the former officers urged jurors to check their emotions on the case and focus on the facts instead.
Defense Atty. Michael Schwartz was referring to a 33-minute surveillance video of the police beating that the prosecution repeatedly played for jurors, saying the tape had captured not only a violent encounter, but a homicide.
Schwartz said repeatedly showing the video was an effort to tug at the jurors' heartstrings.
“If the real trial takes place in the secret courts of men’s hearts, is the public trial pointless?” Schwartz said, quoting “To Kill a Mockingbird.”
Schwartz is representing former Fullerton Cpl. Jay Cicinelli, who is charged with involuntary manslaughter and excessive use of force under the color of authority in the death of Kelly Thomas. His co-defendant Manuel Ramos, is charged with second-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter.
While the Orange County coroner’s office determined that Thomas died from a lack of oxygen caused by chest compression and facial injuries suffered during his struggle with police, defense attorneys have argued and presented a witness who said Thomas died of a weak heart due to his past drug use.
Dr. Aruna Singhania, who performed the autopsy, testified during a preliminary hearing that it was a one-time compression that stopped Thomas from breathing properly, Schwartz said. But during the trial she said it wasn’t a single moment, but a prolonged compression.
Singhania said she was confused by the questioning during the preliminary hearing. Schwartz, however, accused her of changing her testimony to help prosecutors win a conviction.
Schwartz also pointed to the testimony of two other doctors who differed on when and how the compression occurred.
“How can the prosecution claim they met their burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt that Kelly Thomas died of compression,” Schwartz said, “when their experts can’t agree on how or when the compression occurred?”
He also maintained that prosecutors haven’t been able to prove that Cicinelli striking Thomas on the face with his stun gun led to Thomas' death.
Cicinelli hit Thomas with his stun gun as a last resort when the device failed to subdue him and the 37-year-old homeless man reached for the weapon, Schwartz said.
“Nothing has worked, what alternative do you have?” Schwartz said. “My client’s actions were consistent with his training and that’s what a reasonable person would rely on. That’s somebody who’s thinking, somebody who’s assessing, who’s not acting recklessly.”
Prosecutors need to prove Cicinelli’s actions were not in self-defense to convict him of using excessive force, Schwartz said, maintaining that his client feared for the safety of the other officers and himself.
“There’s one verdict in this case, one verdict that’s justified,” Schwartz said. “Not guilty.”