SANTA ANA – The opening of the trial for two former Fullerton police officers charged with beating a mentally ill homeless man to death was delayed Friday to early December.
Opening statements are expected Dec. 2 before Superior Court Judge William Froeberg in the trial of former officers Manuel Ramos and Jay Cicinelli.
Ramos, 39, is charged with second-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter in the death of Kelly Thomas, who died five days after a July 5, 2011, confrontation with police in the parking lot of the Fullerton Transportation Center. Ramos could be sentenced to 15 years to life in prison if convicted of murder; four years if convicted of involuntary manslaughter.
Cicinelli, 41, is charged with involuntary manslaughter and assault under color of authority. He could get up to four years in custody if convicted.
Hundreds of prospective jurors have been summoned to Orange County Superior Court on Nov. 4 and 5 for the first round of eliminations to seat a jury in the headline-making case. Orange County’s jury commissioner has been asked to identify 150 candidates who have the time and resources to serve on a jury trial that is expected to last five or six weeks.
Those jurors will return to Froeberg’s court for the final round of jury selection beginning Nov. 18. The court will be in recess during Thanksgiving week.
Prosecutors contend Ramos provoked the beating by snapping on latex gloves and telling Thomas, “Now see my fists? They are getting ready to f— you up,” and that Cicinelli used excessive force with a stun gun when the confrontation escalated into a physical confrontation.
Thomas, 37, was wrestled to the ground, pummeled, struck with a baton and the stun gun, and handcuffed during a 30-minute encounter with police officers as he was being questioned about a report of someone trying to open the doors of parked cars, prosecutors said. The confrontation was captured by a surveillance video camera.
Defense attorneys John Barnett and Michael Schwartz contend that Ramos and Cicinelli were doing their jobs and that Thomas initiated the beating by failing to abide by a lawful order.
A third officer, Joseph Wolfe, 37, was indicted by the Orange County grand jury on charges of involuntary manslaughter and use of excessive force a year after Ramos and Cicinelli were charged. Wolfe has a pretrial hearing Jan. 24.
By LARRY WELBORN / ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER
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