There's no doubt that on the night of July 5, 2011, Fullerton Police Department Corporal Jay Cicinelli topped an already restrained Kelly Thomas and repeatedly slammed the butt of a Taser gun into his face.
Nobody honest can claim Cicinelli is innocent of the vicious, needless assault on the unarmed, 37-year-old, homeless man, who within minutes would fall silent on his way to death with multiple facial fractures after cops erroneously concluded he'd stolen mail and pulled on car door handles in a parking lot.
In addition to the video evidence, an audio recording captured him bragging to the other five officers as they stood over Thomas' bloody, unconscious body without rending a second of medical aid that he'd “smashed [Thomas'] face to hell.”
Given Cicinelli's unconscionable, ham-fisted style of policing, it's not surprising that the man defending him against an involuntary manslaughter charge would eagerly play the role of bully in the ongoing trial inside Orange County's central courthouse.
Criminal defense lawyer Michael Schwartz–once a prime member of an Upland-based, cop union law firm that collapsed in an ethical scandal earlier this year–has finesse skills in his courtroom quiver. I know this fact because I've witnessed him for hours in other, unrelated cases. But for some reason Schwartz has decided to play stereotypical, obnoxious, truth-trampling lawyer in the Kelly Thomas murder trial.
In his Dec. 2 opening statement, Schwartz committed a blunder you'd expect from a nervous, rookie lawyer by tossing away his credibility during the first two minutes of his presentation.
He described Thomas as a “220-pound,” hulking monster that put fear in the group of heavily armed, veteran cops.
“[Thomas] was not small,” Schwartz told jurors. “He was not meek.”
But the 220-pound assertion wasn't just a bald-faced lie. It was easy to disprove. For example, the video doesn't show a skinny Thomas close to that weight and a paramedic at the scene of the killing confidently testified under oath that the victim's weight was about 160 pounds, maybe less.
How Schwartz grabbed his 220-pound claim underscores the desperation of the defense team, which includes lawyer John Barnett on behalf of Manuel Ramos, the cop who began the incident with Thomas by saying his fists were going “to fuck him up.”
Cicinelli's lawyer had to know that District Attorney Tony Rackauckas and fellow prosecutors Jim Tanizaki and Keith Bogardus would pounce and embarrass him, which is what happened.
To tell his opening statement lie, Schwartz used the weight the coroner's office listed for Thomas' corpse and ignored the video and statements by the paramedic.
But one round of elementary questioning proved the autopsy weight was meaningless and Schwartz's use of it was a shameless hoax worthy of a fifth-grade fibber.
Here's reality: The coroner's staff placed Thomas' mauled body on a scale when it arrived from UCI Medical Center a week after the killing. It was wrapped in a body bag. Stuffed inside the bag were soiled medical equipment used by trauma doctors. According to unchallenged testimony, those physicians had flooded Thomas with several gallons of fluid in futile efforts to save him.
During yesterday's rebuttal phase portion of the trial, a theatrically angry Schwartz shifted the subject of his trickery in hopes of leading jurors to believe another perversion of the truth.
Without a shred of evidence, he implied well-respected, veteran doctors Anthony Juguilon and Aruna Singhania from the Orange County coroner's office fabricated that the cause of death was the savage, seven-minute police attack on Thomas.
According to Schwartz, Juguilon and Singhania doctored the official cause of death in a conspiracy with Rackauckas. Their alleged motive? The doctors' contract to perform autopsies is up in January and they want to please, in the lawyer's sinister words, “the County of Orange” by lying under oath, giving a false cause of death and winning a renewed four-year contract.
In one of the greatest suspensions of reality ever in a courthouse, the defense team asserts the cop beating of Thomas had nothing to do with the death. They claim that either paramedics accidentally killed the victim during rescue efforts in the ambulance or that Thomas killed himself by “overexertion” during the incident. And I've got a new bridge to sell you.
Whether jurors see through cheap lawyer stunts is unknown. Superior Court Judge William R. Froeberg dismissed the panel for the holidays. Rebuttal testimony from the prosecution is expected to resume on Jan. 6.