Kelly Thomas, the homeless man who died after a severe police beating in 2011, would have died anyway because his heart was damaged from extensive use of methamphetamine, a pathologist testified yesterday.
Steven Karch was a well-paid witness called by the defense team representing ex-Fullerton, Calif., cops Manuel Ramos and Jay Cicinelli, who are on trial in Orange County for Thomas’s killing. Both are charged with involuntary manslaughter. Ramos is also charged with second-degree murder.
Though the coroner’s report said that Thomas died from lack of oxygen to his brain caused by asphyxiation, a direct result of the severe police beating, Karch said that Thomas’s heart could have given out at any time.
"He could have died sitting in a closet by himself," Karch testified.
According to the Orange County newspaper OC Weekly, Karch was paid $750 per hour for his work on the defense’s case and has already pocketed $20,000 from the accused cops lawyers.
Karch also said that Thomas was experiencing a psychotic episode, leading him to attack the police officers.
The homeless man “could have been seeing a six-headed monster,” during his July 5, 2011, confrontation with Ramos and Cicinelli, Karch speculated.
But the video at the heart of the case, a security camera recording that shows the beating and encounter leading up to it, clearly depicts Thomas speaking coherently to the cops before the beating commenced.
A still from the video is at right. See the video, below.
Pressed by Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas for evidence that Thomas was hallucinating at the time, the expert witness deferred, merely asserting that Thomas’s apparent willingness to fight two police officers indicated that he must be experiencing mental delusions.
"It's not easy to throw a half dozen policemen around," Karch remarked in response, in his testimony which closed the defense case. "I can't imagine a situation I'd fight with six police officers."
The video shows that Thomas did not fight six police officers. Only Ramos and Cicinelli initiated the beating, with other officers arriving as the attack was in progress. Thomas did not "throw around" any of them.
Thomas can be heard protesting that he cannot breathe, and calling for help from his father who was nowhere around, on the video. But Karch brushed off the beaten man’s desperate pleas as typical of individuals experiencing psychosis.
The prosecution will now begin calling witnesses to rebut the testimony of Karch and other defense witnesses.