Jury selection will get underway in mid-November in the precedent-setting trial of two former Fullerton police officers charged with fatally beating a homeless man in July 2011, an Orange County judge announced Monday.
Opening statements in what could be a five-week trial for Manuel Ramos, 39, and Jay Cicinelli, 41, are expected Nov. 18 and the case could be handed to the jury by mid-January 2014, Superior Court Judge William Froeberg said.Ramos is charged with second-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter in the death of Kelly Thomas, a mentally ill homeless man who died five days after a July 5, 2011, brutal confrontation with Fullerton police in the parking lot of the Fullerton Transportation Center. Thomas, 37, was wrestled to the ground, pummeled, struck with a baton and a stun gun and handcuffed during a 30-minute encounter with first two and then six Fullerton police officers as he was being questioned about a report of somebody trying to open the doors of parked cars.
The confrontation was captured by a surveillance video camera.
Ramos is the first policeman in Orange County history to be charged with murder for an on-duty incident. He could be sentenced to 15 years to life in prison if convicted of murder; four years if convicted of involuntary manslaughter. Cicinelli, the third officer on the scene, who used the stun gun to jolt Thomas and then used it as weapon to hit him in the face, is charged with involuntary manslaughter and assault under color of authority. He could get up to four years in custody. Defense attorneys John Barnett and Michael Schwartz will contend Ramos and Cicinelli were doing their jobs and that Thomas initiated the beating by failing to abide by a lawful order. Further details are coming out that the officers knew Kelly Thomas was mentally ill beforehand.
A third officer, Joseph Wolfe, 37, was indicted by the Orange County grand jury on involuntary manslaughter and excessive-force charges a year after Ramos and Cicinelli were charged. He is scheduled to appear in Froeberg’s court Oct. 18 for a pretrial hearing. Hundreds of jurors are expected to fill out questionnaires about their knowledge of the case for attorneys to evaluate for the final jury selection process, now scheduled to begin Nov. 12. Candidates will be vetted to find a large enough pool of citizens who can sit on a trial that could last up to two months (with time off for Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s and Hanukkah) without being a hardship.
“The wheels of justice turn slow, but for us they have been turning,” said Thomas’ father, Ron Thomas, outside the courthouse, in comments after the hearing Monday.
“We’re the only family in Orange County history that has taken on duty officers to trial for murder,” he said. “We have a good feeling about this.
“I think the biggest factor in this which will help us is Kelly,” Ron Thomas added. “It’s the video, the audio, it’s all there.”
Kelly’s mother, Cathy Thomas, stood next to Ron Thomas as he spoke, a button with her son’s picture pinned on one side of her dress and a blue ribbon on the other that read “Kelly Matters. Yesterday, today & tomorrow.”
Author: Mark Hastings
Mark Hastings is the Editor-in-chief and an opinion writer for UFPnews
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