A jury of eight women and four men has been impaneled to weigh the fate of a pair of former Fullerton police officers charged in the 2011 beating death of Kelly Thomas, a mentally ill homeless man who was a familiar figure in the city’s downtown.
Former Officer Manuel Ramos is charged with second-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter and former Cpl. Jay Cicinelli with involuntary manslaughter and excessive use of force in the incident, which sparked outrage and political upheaval in the Orange County city.
A third officer, Joseph Wolfe, faces involuntary manslaughter charges and will be tried separately.
Ron Thomas, Kelly Thomas' father, said he was happy the trial date is finally nearing.
"It’s been a long time, a long journey," Ron Thomas said. "I think we have a good jury and I'm feeling confident going into this."
Questions defense lawyers posed to potential jurors Monday during jury selection suggest they may focus on Kelly Thomas' drug use and the role it may have played the night he died.
While questioning a juror who said she had worked with homeless veterans in a hospital setting, Ramos’ attorney John Barnett asked her if she believed the case was about mental illness.
“Seems so,” she said.
“Do you believe there is a difference (between) someone who has a mental illness or drug abuse?” Barnett asked.
Barnett also asked her whether she had ever treated a violent patient in a hospital setting.
“Yes,” she said.
He then asked her if she believes there’s a difference between dealing with someone in a controlled environment such as a hospital or the street.
“I’m not sure,” she said.
Nearly all of the potential jurors said they had heard about the Kelly Thomas beating death.
Another juror who said her family has had issues with law enforcement said, based on news coverage, that she believed Ramos and Cicinelli failed to listen to Thomas.
A grainy black-and-white video, which shows a shirtless Thomas being repeatedly struck by police and eventually calling out for help, will likely be the centerpiece of the prosecution's evidence.
“The partial video of the event doesn’t capture everything, there’s lots of gaps that need to be filled,” Superior Court Judge William R. Froeberg cautioned jurors.
The judge asked one potential juror if he would be able to make a decision based solely on what’s presented in court and try to put aside any opinions he had formed of the incident.
“I don’t know,” he said. “But I’m willing to give it a try.”
The trial is set to open Dec. 2.