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Only On 2: Lawyer Who Won Acquittal In Kelly Thomas Case Has History Of Getting Police Cleared

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ORANGE (CBSLA.com) — The verdict of “Not guilty” should come as no surprise to people who have watched John Barnett in a courtroom.

The defense attorney has a history of helping police who are accused of crossing the line. This also includes high-profile cases where the incident is caught on videotape.

CBS2’s Dave Lopez says Barnett has a long legacy of getting acquittals for his clients.

Lopez interviewed Barnett in a story you will see Only on CBS2.

They talked about the acquittal of Barnett’s client, ex-Fullerton Police Officer Manuel Ramos, for the beating death of homeless man Kelly Thomas.

“The [public] comes to the conclusion, early on, in these cases that the video is the case — when it is not,” said Barnett.

The lawyer candidly admitted to Lopez that when he first saw the video of his client beating Thomas,  he even said to himself, ‘This doesn’t look good.’

“I said, this is going to be a very difficult case to defend because the video is very powerful,” said Barnett.

Getting the jury to see the videotape differently is, perhaps, what Barnett does best.

In 1991, he successfully defended LAPD Officer Ted Briseno in the Rodney King beating trial. In 2002, he defended Inglewood Officer Jeremy Morse who is shown on videotape punching a 16-year-old suspect in the face while the teen is handcuffed.

In that case, there were two trials, two hung juries and the DA ultimately dismissed the case.

Lopez suggests to Barnett that he must be some kind of magician — especially in the Kelly Thomas case. The man is seen beaten, repeatedly, and he’s heard calling out for help. And he doesn’t appear to be resisting.

“I am not a magician,” Barnett says, “I look at the tape with some care. I look at the other evidence. But I am not a magician.”

Lopez explains that Barnett tries to take the emotion out of the case and convince the 12 members of the jury that there is always more to the video than meets the eye.

In the case of Kelly Thomas, Barnett hammered home that officer Ramos tried on six prior occasions to help the deceased and that he always resolved conflicts without violence.

Barnett played for the jury six audio tapes of prior incidents showing how much the officer tried to help Thomas.

Lopez said, “That still doesn’t change what is on the video. The beating, him crying out for help.”

“It doesn’t change that,” concedes Barnett, “but it does put it in perspective. It said this officer was not looking to beat him up. He was looking to send him home.”

Lopez asks if Barnett feels good about the verdict of not guilty.

“Very good,” Barnett answers, “In this case, a good cop is not going to prison for the rest of his life for doing his job.”

And Lopez counters, “And you did yours.”

To which Barnett says, “And  I did mine.”

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