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Trial of two ex-cops in death of homeless man moves to closing arguments

By Chuck Conder, CNN
updated 7:19 PM EST, Tue January 7, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Kelly Thomas, 37, died after being beaten by Fullerton Police Department officers
  • Two former officers are on trial in his death
  • Manuel Ramos is charged with second-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter
  • Jay Cicinelli is charged with involuntary manslaughter and use of excessive force

Santa Ana, California (CNN) -- A surveillance video played a key role as closing arguments got underway Tuesday in the trial of two former Fullerton, California, police officers accused in the beating death of a mentally ill homeless man.

Kelly Thomas was severely beaten by deputies the night of July 5, 2011. He later died in a hospital. The surveillance camera footage shows Thomas being beaten, clubbed, and stunned with a Taser by police. The case drew national headlines.

During closing arguments, District Attorney Tony Rackaukas told jurors that the confrontation was started by former police officer Manuel Ramos. On the video Ramos can be heard telling Thomas, "These fists, they are going to f*** you up." Rackauckas told the jury that Kelly Thomas was simply trying to protect himself from an unprovoked beating.

Rackauckas told the jury, "Kelly Thomas pleaded -- pleaded -- that he could not breathe. Apologized. But the use of force continued."

But an attorney for one of the police officers painted a very different picture of that night.

John Barnett told jurors the case was "not about a about a homeless, helpless, harmless Kelly Thomas." Barnett painted a picture of Thomas as a mentally ill methamphetamine addict with a violent past.

Barnett argued that Thomas was uncooperative with officers who were responding to a complaint that a homeless man was attempting to break into parked cars.

The prosecution and the defense even disagree about the cause of Kelly Thomas's death. The coroner ruled that Thomas died from respiratory failure as a result of the beating. Defense experts have testified that Thomas's death was due to heart abnormalities caused by long-term drug use.

Barnett told jurors, "There is a controversy among the leading minds in the field."

Former officer Ramos is charged with second-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter. He faces a possible sentence of 15 years to life in prison if convicted. He is the first police officer charged with murder in an on-duty incident in Orange County history.

A second former officer, Jay Cincinelli, is charged with involuntary manslaughter and excessive use of force in the case. Both were fired from the Fullerton police department following the beating incident.

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