Scruggs later went to UCI Medical Center in Orange to take more photos of Thomas that show lots of blood and injuries over his entire body. When the photos were shown, gasps were heard from the crowd and one person left the courtroom.
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“He was a bloody mess,” said Register reporter Lou Ponsi, who viewed the photos.
On cross examination, Scruggs testified that Officer Manuel Ramos, charged with second-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter in Thomas’ death, said: “That was the fight of my life.”
And, she said, Fullerton police Officer Joseph Wolfe said: “This guy wouldn’t stop fighting.”
The next witness was a paramedic who responded to the scene.
Fullerton fire Capt. Ron Stancyk said he arrived shortly before 9 p.m., responding to a call of a man down with police involvement.
He said he initially checked on a bruised police officer, and then noticed Kelly Thomas on the ground, leaning against an officer with his hands cuffed in front.
He said he noticed that Thomas was having trouble breathing. Paramedics loaded the unconscious man into the amublance for a five minute ride to St. Jude’s Hospital.
While in route, Thomas’ heart stopped beating. At the hospital, they were assisting his breathing and performing CPR. They eventually restored his heart beat and he was transferred to UCI Medical Center.
The judge declared a recess shortly after 10:40.
SANTA ANA – Tony Rackauckas, Orange County’s elected district attorney, is expected to stand before a judge at the conclusion of a preliminary hearing next week and ask that two Fullerton police officers be put on trial for the beating death of a homeless man last summer.
That’s significant news for two reasons.
First, it is the first time in Orange County history that a police officer faces a preliminary hearing on a murder charge for actions that occurred while on duty and in uniform.
Second, it is Rackauckas himself who will be handling the prosecution inside the courtroom. Usually, he is represented in court by one of his deputies.
But Rackauckas has been in court with Senior Assistant District Attorney Jim Tanizake for most of the prior appearances in the prosecution of police officers Manuel Anthony Ramos, 38, and Jay Patrick Cicinelli, 42, since he made the decision in September to file felony homicide charges in the July 5 beating death of Kelly Thomas, 37.
Ramos, who is free on $1 million bail – one of the highest bails ever posted in Orange County, is charged with second-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter. He was a 10-year veteran of the Fullerton Police Department.
Cicinelli, free on $25,000 bail, is charged with involuntary manslaughter and excessive force under color of authority for his role in helping subdue Thomas.
‘See my fists?’
Rackauckas contends that Ramos triggered the deadly exchange when he snapped on a pair of latex gloves, leaned over Thomas in a menacing manner and made two fists before telling the homeless man, “Now, see my fists? … They are getting ready to f— you up.”
And Rackauckas argues that Cicinelli, a 12-year Fullerton officer, fired his stun gun four times into Thomas, then smashed him in the face eight times with it after Thomas became nonresponsive.
Many current participants in the Orange County criminal justice arena remember Rackauckas as the Orange County judge who became the first outsider to win election as the district attorney of Orange County in 1998. But some old-timers also remember his days as trial prosecutor on the homicide team who won convictions of more than two dozen murderers in the 1970s and ’80s.
He persuaded Orange County juries to recommend death sentences for convicted killers Michael Seton Thompson and John Galen Davenport. Thompson’s death penalty was eventually reversed on appeal, but Davenport has been on death row longer than any current Orange County inmate.
Rackauckas also obtained murder convictions and life sentences for two men, Ronald Ewing and William Gullett, for kidnapping and murdering the wife of a Los Alamitos grocery store manager during a botched ransom plot where the manager was supposed to get money from the store safe. One of the defense attorneys in that case was John D. Barnett, one of Orange County’s best criminal defense lawyers, who is now defending Ramos.
Barnett and Rackauckas started their legal careers about the same time in the early 1970s – Barnett in the Public Defender’s Office and Rackauckas in the District Attorney’s Office. They have a mutual respect, and now they are set to battle it out in the courtroom in one of Orange County’s most high-profile cases in a decade.
Not overly dramatic
“Tony … has a natural ability to grasp complex factual/legal issues and explain them in plain, persuasive prose. This makes very effective in front of juries,” Barnett said recently. “He is not slick or over-dramatic.
“There is a calm ferociousness to his advocacy,” Barnett added. “He does not lose his temper, but you know he is angry. He does not belittle his opponent, but you know he thinks little of his opponent’s case.”
While Barnett respects his opponent, he told reporters after earlier court appearances that he expects charges will be dismissed after the preliminary hearing, which is scheduled to start Monday.
A preliminary hearing is the first step in the justice system, in which a magistrate or judge evaluates the evidence. In a preliminary hearing, the judge is asked to decide only two things: Was there a crime, and is there a reasonable belief that the person charged committed the crime?
It is a relatively minor burden of proof for a prosecutor compared with what he must prove at trial – guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
Although almost every defendant is ordered to stand trial after a preliminary hearing, Barnett says the prosecution will not be able to meet the burden of proof in the Ramos case.
“There is insufficient evidence to prove the charges against my client,” Barnett says. “There is no theory of facts upon which a murder charge be sustained.
“The acts of my client were reasonable and appropriate under the circumstances, not to mention that he was not the cause of death,” Barnett added. “My client confronted a non-compliant suspect … (and) used only that force that was necessary to restrain Kelly Thomas. He did what he was required to do and nothing more.”
Ramos faces a potential sentence of 15 years to life if convicted of second-degree murder. A jury could also find him guilty of the lesser crime of involuntary manslaughter, which carries a maximum sentence of four years in prison.
Cicinelli faces a maximum sentence of four years in prison if convicted.