Video proves police beating killed Kelly Thomas, coroner says

December 19, 2013|By Adolfo Flores
  • Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas wields a police baton to demonstrate how he believes Fullerton police officers beat Kelly Thomas to death in 2011.
Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas wields a police baton… (Bruce Chambers / Associated…)

The county’s chief forensic pathologist testified Thursday that Kelly Thomas died as a result of the injuries he sustained in a struggle with Fullerton police officers, with "compelling" video evidence to prove it.

The mentally ill homeless man died of prolonged mechanical chest compressions and blunt facial injuries, said Dr. Anthony Juguilon. He came to that conclusion after reviewing autopsy findings, photographs and video of the 2011 incident.

“The video really is compelling,” Juguilon said. “The video clearly shows there’s mechanical compression of the chest and torso.”

The cause of death has been a much-contested point in the case against former Fullerton officers Manuel Ramos and Jay Cicinelli, who are charged with Thomas’ death. Ramos is charged with second-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter; Cicinelli is charged with involuntary manslaughter and excessive use of force.

Thomas died five days after the July 5, 2011, incident when he was taken off life support.

Juguilon’s conclusions mirror the findings of Dr. Aruna Singhania, the pathologist who conducted Thomas' official autopsy. Juguilon did not conduct the autopsy himself.

Singhania's testimony was challenged by defense lawyers who said her testimony was inconsistent from the preliminary hearing when she pointed to a single moment in the beating as the cause of death, not prolonged mechanical compression.

Singhania said she was misled during the preliminary hearing and that there had not been a single instance of compression that led to Thomas’ death.

On Wednesday, defense attorneys called expert witness Dr. Steven Karch, who said Thomas died due to a weak heart caused by using meth.

Thomas told a doctor in 1995 that he had used meth and LSD for years. A toxicology report found that he had no drugs or alcohol in his system the night of the beating.

However, people who had a habit of using meth and then stopped taking it could still be affected years later, suffering from ailments such as cardiac damage and spontaneous psychotic episodes, Karch said.

On Thursday, jurors were excused for two weeks for the holidays and were told to return Jan. 6 for more rebuttal.


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