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Two versions of Kelly Thomas emerge in closing arguments

John Barnett, Manuel Ramos's attorney, in a May 2012 photo
John Barnett, Manuel Ramos's attorney, in a May 2012 photo
Photo by Pool/Getty Images

Two versions of Kelly Thomas emerged Jan. 7 when closing arguments began in a case that has taken almost three years to finish.

One, a non-threatening, compliant person who exercised his right to self-defense from the police the evening of July 5, 2011. The other, a man with a prolonged history of violence and many brushes with the law.

A packed courtroom listened intently at Orange County Superior Court in Santa Ana as District Attorney Tony Rackauckas gave his closing argument, which lasted roughly three hours. John Barnett, attorney for Manuel Ramos, also began his closing argument in the afternoon and will finish tomorrow.

Ramos and Jay Cicinelli, former officers of the Fullerton Police Department are currently on trial in the death of Kelly Thomas, a homeless, schizophrenic man. Ramos and Cicinelli had an encounter with Thomas July 5, 2011, which landed him in the hospital and was taken off life support five days later. Ramos is being charged with second degree murder and involuntary manslaughter while Cicinelli is being charged with involuntary manslaughter and assault and battery by an officer.

"If we don't apply the law fairly to the least of us, this [situation] could happen to anybody," Rackauckas told the jury early on.

Rackauckas said the case was fortunate to have a surveillance video of the encounter and told the jury they were "watching a homicide." He told them the video shows what happened and didn't happen.

Jurors were then taken through the video in increments as Rackauckas showed the jury why they needed to convict Ramos and Cicinelli. Sniffles were heard throughout the courtroom during portions of the video where Thomas yelled. His mother, Cathy, sobbed while his grandmother, Jeanie Dieball, plugged her ears during those portions of the video.

Thomas can be heard yelling "Help me! Help me! Help me Dad!" in the video, "God help me!" and "God help me!" many times in the video. At one point during the closing argument, a Power Point screen of black with white words showing what Thomas screamed came up.

Rackauckas said that Ramos didn't act professionally from the beginning and was tired of him due to him always being around, as the surveillance video showed him saying.

Ramos had a duty of care towards Ramos, Rackauckas said, that no peril would occur during an arrest. He also said that Ramos escalated the situation when the video showed him putting on rubber gloves and telling Thomas, "See these fists? They're getting ready to f--k you up if you don't start listening!"

Rackauckas also showed a taser to the jury when he discussed Cicinelli. The video showed Cicinelli hitting Thomas in the face with the end of the taser to subdue him. He said that Cicinelli committed an unlawful act and used more force than was reasonably necessary.

"Does anybody have any serious question that [the taser] caused damage to Kelly Thomas's face?" Rackauckas asked the jury.

John Barnett began once Rackauckas finished and immediately told the jury that this case was not about a homeless, helpless man or a bully cop.

"This is not about a homeless, helpless guy," Barnett told the jury as he went through Thomas's years of arrests and prior conduct.

Barnett told the jury that bringing up Thomas's prior arrests was not "smearing" him, as the prosecution suggested earlier, but instead showed years of violence and outbursts of anger as he showed a timeline of Thomas's arrests.

"We're not smearing Kelly Thomas. He smeared himself with his conduct," he told the jury.

Barnett put up signs to explain to the jury what was needed to convict Ramos of murder and involuntary manslaughter, including proving the cause of death beyond a reasonable doubt, which he said the prosecution did not do.

Barnett will finish up tomorrow. The case is expected to go to the jury either Wednesday or Thursday.

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