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Coroner's testimony in Kelly Thomas beating challenged

December 05, 2013|By Adolfo Flores
  • A shirtless Kelly Thomas is shown being hit repeatedly with fists, a baton and the butt on a stun gun by Fullerton police officers in a dramatic video that was shown in court for the first time Monday.
A shirtless Kelly Thomas is shown being hit repeatedly with fists, a baton… (Orange County district…)

Defense attorneys in the Kelly Thomas trial repeatedly challenged the testimony of a pathologist who concluded that the homeless man died from injuries he suffered during his violent clash with Fullerton police.

Aruna Singhania, an Orange County coroner’s office pathologist, testified that Thomas died of brain damage from lack of oxygen caused by chest compression and injuries to his face.

Singhania said that after examining Thomas' body she couldn't determine the cause of death but reached a conclusion about three months later after conducting a toxicology report, a microscopic review and watching the video of the 2011 beating.

Her testimony is considered critical in the trial of former officers Manuel Ramos and Jay Cicinelli. Ramos is charged with second-degree murder and Cicinelli with involuntary manslaughter.

John Barnett, Ramos' attorney, pressed the pathologist, saying her testimony was inconsistent with the preliminary hearing when she pointed to a single moment in the beating as the cause of death.

Singhania said she had been misled in the preliminary hearing questioning and that there was not a single instance of compression during that struggle that caused Thomas' death. He lost his ability to breathe as the beating progressed, she said.

“It’s a constellation of injuries, not one single injury,” Singhania responded.

At one point Barnett asked her if the compression occurred when Thomas was screaming for his father to help him and Ramos was holding his feet.

“I’m going to correct myself,” Singhania said, referring again to her preliminary testimony. “Compression occurred but the intensity is not there, there’s no one-time compression … you never asked about the intensity.”

During opening statements in the trial Monday, defense attorneys said Thomas died because he had a bad heart due to prior drug use, not from injuries suffered in the struggle.

At times Barnett's cross examination became heated.

“But you determined a discrete event on the video which showed compression, which you cited as the cause of death right?” Barnett asked Singhania.

“Again, this has gotten misinterpreted,” Singhania said.

“You know this is a problem for the case don’t you?” Barnett responded.

The cross examination from Barnett and Michael Schwartz, who is representing Cicinelli, lasted nearly three hours.

At the end, when Judge William Froeberg asked if Singhania should be excused or placed on call to return as a witness, Orange County Dist. Atty. Tony Rackauckas said she should be excused.

When Froeberg excused her, Schwartz smiled at Barnett and winked.

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adolfo.flores@latimes.com

Twitter: @AdolfoFlores3

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