The physician who treated transient Kelly Thomas after he was severely beaten by Fullerton police returns to the stand today after testifying that Thomas died as a result of the conflict.
Dr. Michael Lekawa's testimony disputes defense arguments that Kelly Thomas had an enlarged heart, which led to his death following a fight with law enforcement officers, including former Officer Manuel Ramos and former Cpl. Jay Cicinelli at the Fullerton Transportation Center on July 5, 2011.
Ramos is charged with second-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter. Cicinelli is charged with involuntary manslaughter and excessive force.
Lekawa, who treated Thomas at UC Irvine Medical Center in Orange for five days until the transient was disconnected from life-support machines, testified that Thomas' heart swelled after his chest was compressed and he was beaten by officers.
The chest compression and a bloodied nose choked his airways, draining oxygen from his blood and leading to brain death, Lekawa testified.
Lekawa said he called Orange County prosecutors about a month after Thomas died when he read news reports that physicians may have had trouble putting a breathing tube into his mouth at St. Jude's Hospital before he was transferred to UC Irvine Medical Center.
"I wanted to be sure the police officers weren't unfairly blamed, because it might have been due to a problem with his airway at St. Jude," Lekawa said.
Lekawa was told by a paramedic when Thomas was brought to UC Irvine Medical Center that he had to be "intubated" twice, but the physician later learned that wasn't the case, he testified.
Lekawa did some more research and watched the video of Thomas' struggle with police to make his determination on the cause of death, he testified.
Lekawa's testimony backs up the evidence presented by Dr. Aruna Singhania, the pathologist who performed the autopsy on Thomas' body. Singhania testified that Thomas died from bleeding from his broken nose and other facial injuries, which filled up his inflamed lungs, as well as chest compressions, all of which dulled his breathing.
Lekawa also pointed to how Thomas kept calling out how he could not breathe, a cry for help that faded as his exertion generated carbon dioxide in his system and he was drained of oxygen.
"Eventually his words become garbled ... elongated and unintelligible," all signs of oxygen deprivation, Lekawa testified.
Thomas' heart rate was also "profoundly low," when paramedics tended to him, Lekawa testified.
During cross-examination by Ramos' attorney, John Barnett, Lekawa acknowledged that paramedics may have broken three of Thomas' ribs trying to revive him.
Barnett quizzed Lekawa on how much research he did to determine that Thomas only needed to have the breathing tube inserted once, and Lekawa said he relied on the hospital's records.
Barnett asked Lekawa that if the breathing tube had to be put in twice would it change his opinion about the cause of death. The physician replied, "My opinion would be different in that another factor was involved in the outcome."
Cicinelli's attorney, Michael Schwartz, asked Lekawa if he did a microscopic investigation of Thomas' heart, and the physician replied that he had not.
Lekawa testified that Thomas was in "reasonably" good health before his conflict with police because he was not overweight and was 37 years old.
Thomas' heart appeared "normal" on a chest X-ray, but was "enlarged" in the post-mortem investigation of his body, Lekawa testified.
"Your heart swells like anything else" when it is injured, Lekawa testified.
That disputes statements by defense attorneys at the onset of the trial when they said the evidence will show Thomas' heart was enlarged by years of substance abuse.
Lekawa is scheduled to continue testifying today and could be the prosecution's final witness. Defense attorneys may begin their case on Thursday.
-- City News Service