By PAUL ANDERSON
City News Service
SANTA ANA - Telling jurors to use their "common sense," Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackaukas said today transient Kelly Thomas died at the hands of two former Fullerton police officers who brutalized him during a 2011 arrest, not as the result of a weak heart.
In his closing argument of the trial of former Cpl. Jay Cicinelli and former Officer Manuel Ramos, Rackaukas called the defense claim that Thomas' heart was weakened by years of drug use "nonsense," saying there was no medical evidence to support the contention.
"He died from a prolonged struggle with police officers," Rackaukas told jurors. "Common sense tells you ... Kelly Thomas put up quite a struggle and didn't have a weak heart. This whole thing about a weak heart is nonsense."
Ramos is charged with second-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter and Cicinelli is charged with involuntary manslaughter and excessive force stemming from the July 5, 2011, struggle with the 37-year-old Thomas, who was taken off life support and died five days later at UC Irvine Medical Center.
Former Officer Joe Wolfe, who was indicted on charges of involuntary manslaughter and using excessive force, will be tried separately.
Testimony in the trial concluded Monday, with dueling experts focusing on the homeless man's heart and what triggered his demise. Defense attorneys have argued that years of drug use left Thomas with a weak heart, and it ultimately led to his death.
But Rackaukas strongly denied the allegation and told the jury, "You're going to send a message whether the conduct of these police officers is acceptable." He called defense arguments about Thomas' drug use tantamount to "smearing" the victim.
As testimony concluded Monday, Dr. Matthew Budoff of Harbor UCLA Medical Center testified for the prosecution that Thomas died because his heart was starved of oxygen during the struggle with six Fullerton officers, including Ramos and Cicinelli.
"He didn't have enough oxygen going through his heart muscle at that time," Budoff testified.
Budoff noted that paramedics measured Thomas' heart rate at 60 beats per minute after his struggle with the officers. Elevated adrenalin during a physical conflict would usually mean a heart rate double that, but Thomas' heart slowed to preserve oxygen, Budoff said.
Other expert witnesses for the prosecution have testified Thomas' breathing was affected during the struggle by officers compressing the suspect's chest and by blood choking his airways when his nose was broken.
Budoff made a PowerPoint presentation to illustrate his assertion that Thomas' heart was normal and could have served the transient until he was 82. Budoff showed jurors a CAT scan of Thomas' heart that indicated it was of normal size when he was brought to UC Irvine Medical Center, where he held on for five days before he was taken off life support.
Budoff also showed jurors the enlarged heart of a methamphetamine abuser as a stark contrast.
Dr. Steven Karch, a heart specialist, testified for the defense last month that Thomas' heart was damaged by years of methamphetamine abuse and that the transient could have died at any time, whether he struggled with police or not.
Under cross-examination by Cicinelli's attorney, Michael Schwartz, Budoff acknowledged he did not do any microscopic analysis of Thomas' heart. He also acknowledged that Thomas' heart was about 20 percent heavier than it should be for someone his age when he died, but Budoff said that could have been because of fluids pumped into his body to try to save his life.
-- City News Service