Four days into the sensational Kelly Thomas murder trial, it's clear that defense lawyers for two Fullerton cops accused of criminal conduct in the gory July 2011 police killing will rely largely on half-truths, complete distortions and semi-cleverly spun nonsense to win.
I reported after the Dec. 2 opening statements that John Barnett and Michael Schwartz, lawyers for Manuel Ramos and Jay Cicinelli, declared that a severe, seven-minute attack by a group of cops was not even a minor factor in the death of the unarmed, comparatively small, homeless man.
As if somehow exculpatory for their clients, Barnett and Schwartz proclaim that Thomas (blood-covered, unconscious and horrifically mauled) still had a pulse at the immediate conclusion of the beating.
Though the defense claims Thomas killed himself during the attack by overexerting an enlarged heart and suffering a heart attack, the coroner who performed the autopsy ruled that out as a possibility during today's testimony.
"He died with an enlarged heart," said Dr. Aruna Singhania. "But he didn't die because of an enlarged heart."
Singhania directly attributed the cause of death to what everyone but apologists for police brutality knows: The length and severity of the unnecessary physical attack--including numerous crushing blows to his face--restricted Thomas' oxygen supply.
Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas quickly followed up, asking that at the very time Thomas needed more oxygen during the incident, was his supply "getting less and depleted"?
"That's correct," the veteran coroner replied.
Digital audio records made by police at the scene document the 37-year-old Thomas repeatedly and with ever-increasing exasperation telling the much-heavier officers pummeling him with punches, kicks, baton slams, stomps and Taser gun blasts, "I can't breathe."
The defense team has tried to use the declarations to, at best, underscore their laughable assertion that Thomas' complaints of pain at the scene had no merit, and, at worse, to mock the dead man's statement as a lie.
They've even secured testimony that if a person can say he can't breathe, then he's breathing.
But to view Thomas' statement without context is as absurd as holding someone accountable for the literal meaning of the following type of utterances: "I lost my head," "You crack me up," "I have a chip on my shoulder" and "Lend me your ear."
Under an attack that would kill him, Thomas voiced an urgent expression that was ignored by the cops. He wasn't uttering a lie. He was communicating that he felt the horrific sensation of losing critical oxygen.
Guess what, folks?
Despite the defense team's premature freeze-framing of events to when Thomas was alive, he ultimately fell unconscious while hog-tied at the feet of joke-cracking cops, who rendered no aid and fretted about minor scratches they suffered.
Shortly thereafter, the man--who'd committed no crime and certainly no act to justify his execution by the Fullerton Police Department--lost his breath forever.
During the three-minute ambulance trip to a hospital trauma unit, Thomas' heart stopped beating, and according to paramedics, he flatlined on the electrocardiogram.
(During the preliminary hearing phase in the case, Barnett and Schwartz strongly implied that Thomas might have died because of medical incompetence after he'd been moved from the cops.)
Over the objections of the defense before the noon recess, Rackauckas showed the jury multiple autopsy photographs of a badly beaten corpse.
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The defense team will work to undermine Dr. Singhania's findings beginning this afternoon and will likely continue to press its claim that Rackauckas coached the coroner on the cause of death, an assertion Singhania testified is groundless.