Coverage of the trial involving two ex-police officers charged in the death of a homeless man

Jury Selection Starts in Kelly Thomas Beating Case

Kelly Thomas was a homeless man who Fullerton officers fatally beat during a call on July 5, 2011.

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    NEWSLETTERS

    A pool of 2,000 potential jurors was narrowed down to 117 on the first day of jury selection in the Kelly Thomas beating case at the hands of Fullerton police officers. Potential jurors will answer a 13-page questionnaire, which asks about their views on the homeless and if there is any mental illness in their families. Vikki Vargas reports from Santa Ana for the NBC4 News at 6 p.m. on Nov. 18, 2013.

    Jury selection began on Monday in the criminal case of two former police officers accused of beating to death Kelly Thomas, a mentally ill homeless man, at a Fullerton bus depot two summers ago.

    Full Coverage: Kelly Thomas Case

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    An Orange County grand jury will convene Wednesday in a closed-door session involving evidence surrounding former Fullerton police officer Joseph Wolfe, who was at the scene the night Kelly Thomas was severely beaten by officers at a bus depot. Two other officers have been ordered to stand trial in Thomas' death. Vikki Vargas reports from Fullerton for the NBC4 News at 5 p.m. on Sept. 18, 2012.

    Attorneys questioned potential jurors in the trial of former Fullerton Police Department Cpl. Jay Cicinelli and Officer Manuel Ramos, who are charged in connection with the in-custody beating death of 37-year-old Thomas.

    A 13-page, 60-item questionnaire helped to narrow down a prospective jury pool from 2,000 to 117 on Monday.

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    For more than a year, Ron Thomas has been trying to bring charges against ex-Fullerton police officer Joseph Wolfe, who he believes was ultimately responsible for the beating death of his son, Kelly. “He was the first one on him and the last one off,” Thomas said Friday at a news conference. Wolfe faces one felony count each of involuntary manslaughter and use of excessive force in the July 2011 beating. Lucy Noland reports for the NBC4 News at 5 p.m. on Sept. 28, 2012.

    Prospective jurors were asked, in writing, their thoughts about the homeless and if there is any history of mental illness in their families, according to a copy of the questionnaire obtained by NBC4.

    Experts said the selection process is done that way because jurors tend to be more truthful when they write down their answers.

    New Video Released From Night of Kelly Thomas Beating

    [LA] New Video Released From Night of Kelly Thomas Beating
    Attorneys who represent an Orange County bar have released surveillance video from the night Kelly Thomas was beaten. The video shows him walking through a parking lot, just minutes before he was fatally beaten in 2011. The attorneys released the video as part of their defense against a wrongful-termination lawsuit from a former employee. Vikki Vargas reports from Fullerton for the NBC4 News at 5 p.m. on Feb. 28, 2013.

    "It's easy to say, 'You kill somebody therefore you're guilty if it's proven beyond a reasonable doubt,' but there’s so much nuance to this because of law enforcement, because of mental illness, because of some prior conduct,” said Michael Molfetta, a criminal defense attorney not affiliated with the case.

    “All these types of things, a jury’s gotta go through a lot of mental gymnastics," Molfetta said.

    Molfetta predicts the defense will repeatedly play surveillance video of Thomas being beaten, hoping not to shock but to desensitize the jury. In the video, Thomas can be heard crying out for help.

    Attorneys for the officers said the use of force was necessary.

    Jurors will also see photos of Thomas in a coma, images initially made public his by father.

    Thomas' father, Ron, said he hoped jurors could see through the "smoke and mirrors" of the defense's arguments.

    "Their biggest defense is to make Kelly look like a horrible, drug-crazed maniac with all these abilities to hurt people," he said. "It's just not the case."

    Thomas, who had schizophrenia and a history of run-ins with police, was beaten on July 5, 2011, during a police call-out to a suspected car vandal. He never regained consciousness and was removed from life support at UC Irvine Medical Center on July 10, 2011.

    The judge has gone on record saying there has been a significant amount of pre-trial publicity in this case, but is asking if jurors would be able to put what they know about the case aside when the trial begins on Dec. 2.

    Officials expect to have the jury in place by Thursday.

    Ramos was charged with one felony count of second degree murder and one felony count of involuntary manslaughter. If convicted, he faces up to 15 years to life in state prison.

    Cicinelli was charged with one felony count of involuntary manslaughter and one felony count of the use of excessive force. If convicted, he faces up to four years in state prison.

    A third officer, Joseph Wolfe, (pictured at right) faces charges in a separate trial. He’s expected to appear in court on Jan. 24, the Orange County District Attorney’s Office said.

    Ron Thomas, a former Orange County Sheriff's deputy, has filed a civil wrongful death lawsuit against the city of Fullerton and its police department.

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