After the holiday recess, the evidence portion of the Kelly Thomas murder trial ended today in Orange County Superior Court with, if jurors were paying attention, another devastating blow to the defense of two Fullerton Police Department cops accused of unnecessarily killing the unarmed, homeless man in 2011.
District Attorney Tony Rackauckas called Dr. Matthew J. Budoff, a world-renowned cardiologist and professor at Harbor UCLA Medical Center in Torrance, as a rebuttal witness to reassure the jury what numerous other independent, medical experts concluded in the trial: Thomas, who was severely beaten by a group of officers, died as a result of a lack of oxygen suffered during the gruesome attack.
"[Thomas] died because he wasn't getting enough oxygen [while officers pummeled him]," Budoff testified.
It's been the defense team's absurd contention–somehow delivered without cracking smiles or chuckling–that seven, long minutes of forceful blows from the officers had nothing to do with Thomas falling unconscious in a pool of his blood and ultimately dying at the age of 37.
Defense lawyers John Barnett and Michael Schwartz (who specialize in representing accused dirty cops) had previously summoned Dr. Steven B. Karch to the witness stand to testify that Thomas essentially killed himself by overexerting a damaged heart destroyed with prior methamphetamine abuse.
Apparently using some sort of magically warped crystal ball, Karch guessed–again, without bursting out in belly-holding laughter–that Thomas suffered "a spontaneous" meth-inspired delusion that prompted him to attack the cops and cause his own death.
"I can't imagine a situation where I'd fight six policemen," Karch–switching abruptly from pathologist to disingenuous armchair psychiatrist–opined during Dec. 18 testimony.
There are, of course, three monumental problems with the defense witnesses' wild, $750 an hour bought pontifications designed to erase police accountability for the killing: Blood tests prove Thomas was entirely sober on the night he was beaten to death; video and audio recordings of the killing demonstrate he was coherent until the cops crushed his face; and he did not attack the officers.
Rackauckas asked Budoff if he agreed with Karch's conclusion that Thomas died from an enlarged heart.
Saying there was "no evidence" for such an assertion, Budoff showed jurors images of Thomas' heart taken within hours of the beating.
"This is not big," he testified, pointing at the image of Thomas' heart.
Then, in comparison, he displayed a hospital image of how a heart destroyed by meth typically appears–a substantially larger organ.
Indeed, in contrast to Karch's assertions, Budoff measured Thomas' heart as 39 millimeters at its largest point and described that size as small because a "normal" measurement would be up to 55 millimeters.
He stated that the victim's alarmingly low pH level of 6.49 also indicates that Thomas died from a lack of oxygen and not heart failure.
In an attempt to rebut that rebuttal, the solemn defense team huddled, debated and then called Karch back to the witness stand. Having listened to Budoff, he appeared red-faced, flustered and, during Rackauckas' cross examination, highly defensive.
For example, when the DA asked if he disagreed with Budoff's conclusions about the size of Thomas' heart, Karch chose to be Bill Clinton coy.
He responded, "Could you define 'size' please?"
If Karch had any credibility left, that move erased it, but wasn't surprising. This good doctor would have us believe, as he asserted in prior testimony, that Thomas could just have easily died on July 5, 2011, while watching television alone and without a group of cops punching, kicking, stomping, clubbing and firing Taser blasts into his body.
But Budoff, whose appearance in Judge William R. Froeberg's 10th floor courtroom dripped with logical credibility, stated that Thomas' heart may have likely survived another four decades.
Even Barnett and Schwartz–who rarely ignore opportunities to mock opposing witnesses–didn't spend much time fighting Budoff, who was unequivocal that Karch's cause of death was wrong and that his gobbledygook about the killing was "irrelevant."
Rackauckas insists that now fired officers Manuel Ramos and Jay Cicinelli, the two defendants, went far beyond the use of excessive force in dealing with the homeless, schizophrenic man.
Closing arguments are scheduled to begin tomorrow.