After five weeks of testimony, the case of Kelly Thomas' death at the hands of police officers in Fullerton rests with the jury. Vikki Vargas reports from Santa Ana for the NBC4 News at 5 p.m. on Jan. 9, 2014.
Attorneys finished closing arguments Thursday in the case of two former police officers accused in the beating death of a homeless man -- a case that outraged a community and led to several city officials' resignations in the Orange County community of Fullerton.
Former Fullerton Officer Manuel Ramos, 39, has pleaded not guilty to one count of second-degree murder and one count of involuntary manslaughter. He is the first police officer in Orange County to be charged with murder on duty.
Former Fullerton Cpl. Jay Cicinelli has pleaded not guilty to one count of involuntary manslaughter and one count of excessive use of force.
The case was handed to the jury Thursday. Jurors will begin their deliberations on Jan. 13, after five weeks of testimony that included a key piece of surveillance video and audio recordings from the night of July 5, 2011, when Kelly Thomas encountered officers on a patrol call at a Fullerton transit station.
The video shows the confrontation escalate to violence involving six officers and the 37-year-old mentally ill man on the ground crying out for his father nearly 30 times, apologizing and begging for air.
Thomas struggled with officers, but only because he "was just trying to survive," the district attorney told jurors, adding that Thomas was never informed of an intent to arrest him. Thomas died at a hospital five days after the confrontation.
"As you watch, you realize that what you're watching and hearing is a person dying at the hands of the police," said Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas. "You're watching a homicide."
But defense attorneys claimed Thomas was a violent, unpredictable man who was to blame for the officers' treatment because he didn't follow a lawful order despite repeated instructions and was combative.
"This case is not about a homeless, helpless, harmless mentally ill guy," Ramos' attorney, John Barnett, told jurors. "What these officers were dealing with on July 5 was a dangerous guy, a very dangerous guy."
Barnett said Thomas' own words, captured on audio recording devices worn by the officers, suggest he did not feel threatened After Ramos put on a pair of latex gloves and told Thomas his fist were ready "f--- you up," Thomas responded, "Start punching dude."
Cicinelli's attorney accused prosecutors of stooping to "myths" because they lack the evidence to convict his client and Ramos. One of the "myths" in the prosecution's case is that Thomas had a right to self-defense and resist arrest because Ramos' threat frightened him, attorney Michael Schwartz told the jury.
"The first myth I'm going to talk about is the myth that Kelly Thomas throughout this ordeal was afraid for his life," Schwartz said. "He found himself in the middle of a fight that he started."
The coroner's report determined Thomas died from chest compression during the struggle.
The case led to the recall of three Fullerton City Council members and the departure of the police chief. Dozens of people have attended the trial each day wearing yellow ribbons and buttons bearing Thomas' image.
NBC4's Vikki Vargas contributed to this report.