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Trial ordered for 2 police officers in beating death of homeless man

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SANTA ANA, California (CNN) — A California judge ordered Wednesday that two Fullerton police officers stand trial in the beating death last year of Kelly Thomas, a homeless man with a mental illness.

Officer Manuel Ramos is charged with second-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter, and Cpl. Jay Patrick Cicinelli is charged with involuntary manslaughter and felony use of excessive force.

Orange County Superior Court Judge Walter Schwarm scheduled the next hearing in the case on May 22.

Schwarm’s ruling came after a three-day preliminary hearing that ended Wednesday.

Earlier in the day, Orange County coroner’s pathologist Dr. Aruna Singhania answered questions from attorneys for Ramos and Cicinelli, who have pleaded not guilty to the charges.

Singhania performed the autopsy on Kelly Thomas, 37, a homeless man with schizophrenia who was beaten to death.

Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas, who’s prosecuting the case, told the judge that there’s sufficient evidence to bind the two officers for trial.

“It’s a very bad day in Orange County when we have to charge two police officers with these kinds of terrible crimes,” the county’s elected prosecutor told the judge. “They’re sworn to uphold the law, and they’re entrusted with the authority given to them by the state of California.”

Defense attorneys objected when Rackauckas continued his comments and started speaking of the “awesome power” with which police officers are entrusted.

“This is not a press conference,” said attorney Michael Schwartz, representing defendant Cicinelli.

The prosecutor discontinued that line of argument and began addressing other topics after the judge told him: “The court does understand the powers that police officers have, and the level of trust that society places in police officers.”

John Barnett, the attorney for Ramos, argued that prosecutors didn’t provide sufficient evidence to order his client to stand trial.

On Tuesday, Singhania provided the court with nearly two dozen autopsy photos, prompting Thomas’ mother and father to leave the courtroom, as they did on Monday when a videotape of the beating was played. The 16 minutes of video came from a surveillance camera at a downtown Fullerton bus depot where the incident occurred.

Singhania testified Tuesday that based on her autopsy, medical records and the videotape, she determined mechanical chest compressions with blunt cranial injuries caused Thomas’ death.

Singhania also testified that Thomas suffered a complete hemorrhaging of his left eye.

Thomas was beaten by police during a July 5, 2011, altercation and died five days later, prosecutors say. The FBI is investigating civil rights violations in the case, as well.

Rackauckas has said that Thomas suffered brain injuries, facial fractures, rib fractures and extensive bruising and abrasions. The county coroner listed his manner of death as a homicide and said he died because he was unable to breathe after having his chest compressed.

Ramos, 37, a 10-year veteran of the police department, would face a maximum sentence of 15 years to life if convicted, authorities said. Cicinelli, 39, a 12-year Fullerton police veteran, would face a maximum of four years in prison if convicted.

CNN’s Stan Wilson contributed to this report.

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