What killed Kelly Thomas? Trial resumes with familiar question

Lawyers view image of a pool of blood left after Fullerton police arrested Kelly Thomas in 2011.
(Bruce Chambers / AP)

After a long break for the holidays, testimony in the criminal case against two former Fullerton police officers is set to resume Monday as a UCLA cardiologist is called to the stand to bolster the prosecution’s claim that Kelly Thomas died as a result of a police beating and not a bad heart caused by years of drug use.

Jurors in the widely watched trial also are expected to be told to disregard earlier testimony from a pair of defense witnesses who said the two former officers acted within department policy when a confrontation with Thomas turned violent.

Manuel Ramos and Jay Cicinelli are accused of causing Thomas’ death by striking him repeatedly with a baton and the butt of a stun gun, leaving him comatose. Thomas died five days later.

The defense, though, contends that Thomas put up such resistance during the 2011 incident that the officers repeatedly had to call for back-up units.


Witnesses for the defense contend that Thomas did not die as a result of the pummeling, but from a heart damaged by prior drug use.

The county coroner. however, determined that Kelly died from chest compression during his struggle with police.

Ramos is facing second-degree murder charges; Cicinelli is charged with involuntary manslaughter. A third officer charged in the incident will be tried separately.

The case is likely to turn on a dramatic black-and-white surveillance video of the violent encounter at the Fullerton bus station. The tape has been shown repeatedly during the trial, but each side has reached different conclusions on what it shows.

The prosecution has pointed to the video as proof that the officers continued to beat Thomas even as he called out for help and said that he was having trouble breathing.

The defense said the tape shows that Thomas continues to resist the officers throughout the confrontation.

The case could go to the jury by week’s end.



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