SANTA ANA (CNS) - An Orange County Superior Court judge issued several rulings on what evidence jurors will hear about a homeless man's brushes with the law when two former Fullerton law enforcement officers go on trial in the in-custody beating death of the transient.
The evidence of Kelly Thomas' multiple encounters with police over the years, dating back to an attack on his grandfather with a fireplace poker in the mid-1990s, will be part of defense attorneys' legal theory that former Cpl. Jay Cicinelli and ex-Officer Manuel Anthony Ramos did not use excessive force while restraining Thomas.
Thomas' mother testified today that her son put a hand on her neck and restrained her during an argument in December 2007. Cathy Thomas is expected to testify during the trial, so she was called to the stand today so Superior Court Judge William Froeberg could determine what jurors would be allowed to hear in evidence.
Under questioning by Ramos' attorney, John Barnett, Cathy Thomas said she did not recall telling police that her son threatened her with a butcher knife. The officer who took the report will have to testify before the trial, before Froeberg rules on whether jurors can hear about that alleged threat.
Cathy Thomas testified that she ``may have exaggerated my statement at times'' to police, because she was advised by law enforcement that the more often and more serious the claims, the easier it would be to set her son up with mental health assistance.
When Barnett asked Cathy Thomas if her son choked her, she replied that he ``put a hand on my throat. It wasn't real life-threatening ... He just held me there in one spot ... for a couple of minutes.''
Three years later in December 2010, Cathy Thomas applied for a restraining order to keep her son from contacting her while she stayed at her parents' home in Fullerton. Kelly Thomas was sleeping on the porch and urinating in public.
``I wasn't in fear of him,'' Cathy Thomas said, downplaying her claims in the restraining order. ``I was told it would get him more help.''
Barnett told Froeberg he wanted to subpoena the police officer who took the report about the 2007 incident to ``impeach'' Cathy Thomas' testimony.
Also, still to be determined, is how much jurors will hear about how Kelly Thomas' drug abuse over the years affected him during his encounter with Ramos that led to his fatal beating in July 2011.
When it was being determined whether Kelly Thomas was mentally capable of assisting in his legal defense in the case of the attack on his grandfather, a physician testified that his history of LSD and methamphetamine abuse affected his cognitive abilities.
So far, Froeberg will allow into evidence Kelly Thomas' statements about his drug use, but not his claim that he attacked his grandfather because he thought he was bisexual and making a sexual advance at him. Kelly Thomas pleaded down from attempted murder to assault with a deadly weapon in the case, according to Cicinelli's attorney, Michael Schwartz.
Ron Kelly has contended that his son was diagnosed as schizophrenic. Defense attorneys say there's no corresponding evidence that they are aware of, and after the hearing Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas sidestepped questions about whether Kelly Thomas' mental health will factor into the prosecution's legal theories.
Schwartz was pleased with Froeberg's rulings on Kelly Thomas' criminal history, saying ``it paints a full picture'' of him.
``The picture that's been painted for the past two and a half years has been very misinformed and misleading,'' Schwartz said after today's hearing.
Kelly Thomas started using LSD and methamphetamine in the 10th grade, Barnett said, and it ``ruined his cognitive abilities.''
Defense attorneys want to contradict any characterization of Thomas as a harmless, mentally ill transient pummeled to death by police, who threatened to attack him.
Rackauckas has said that Thomas was frightened when Ramos held his fists up to him, threatening to ``(expletive) him up,'' if Thomas didn't comply with the officer's orders, giving the transient the right to run away and defend himself.
Froeberg also will rule later on how many photos jurors will see depicting Thomas' injuries in the hospital. Prosecutors want to make the case that officers continued to beat Thomas even though he was profusely bleeding and unable to resist, while defense attorneys worry the images will enflame the passions of jurors.
Attorneys will begin questioning prospective jurors on Monday, with opening statements in the trial expected Dec. 2.