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Kelly Thomas verdict: Demonstrators gather at beating site

Crime, Law and JusticeCrimeHomicideJustice System

Dozens of people gathered Monday night at the Fullerton transit depot not far from where Kelly Thomas was beaten by police in the summer of 2011.

The demonstrators, some of whom chanted or carried candles, gathered just a few hours after an Orange County jury found two former Fullerton police officers not guilty in the death of the homeless man who used to sleep on benches at the transit center.

Curtis Gamble, 53, who is homeless, said many of his friends witnessed the beating. Thomas died five days later.

"They didn't get a chance to testify," Gamble said.

He recalled sleeping on benches at the station and waking to see Thomas sifting through trash cans at the site.

Some of the approximately 100 people who gathered at the site, known as "Kelly's corner," were crying. Others waved signs that said "No More Killer Cops" and "Change 4 Justice."

Near a memorial lighted by candles, people signed a guest book. Among those in the crowd was Thomas' mother, Cathy.

"To know all of these people are out here still supporting us means a lot," she said, her eyes teary. "It seems like everybody we talk to was in agreement: It was murder."

The three-week trial ended Monday with jurors rejecting second-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter charges against Manuel Ramos and involuntary manslaughter and excessive force charges against Jay Cicinelli.

Both former police officers lowered their heads, and Cicinelli's attorney, Mark Schwartz, pounded his fist on the table before hugging his client. Thomas' family wept softly.

Cicinelli was ecstatic, Schwartz said.

“He was relieved, after 21/2 years of having this over your head,” Schwartz said. “We’re just going to have to take a deep breath and enjoy the moment.”

The jury reached its verdict after a day of deliberation. 

The centerpiece of the prosecution's case was a grainy black-and-white surveillance tape that captured the violent altercation. During closing arguments, Dist. Atty. Tony Rackauckas, who prosecuted the case, simply played the audio portion of the tape in which Thomas can be heard yelling for help.

While Rackauckas said the tape gave jurors a real-time sense of a homicide taking place, defense attorneys said the video showed that Thomas was the aggressor, fighting the officers so fiercely that they had to call for backup several times.

Defense attorneys said their clients should not be convicted for simply doing their jobs. Ramos' attorney, John Barnett, told reporters: "These peace officers were doing their jobs.... They did what they were trained to do."

It was a rare case for law-and-order Orange County, and the district attorney had staked his reputation on the outcome.

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