SAN JOSE (KPIX 5) — Three Santa Clara County guards are being accused of beating an inmate to death and their murder trial is now underway.
In court during opening statements, the three former correctional deputies were dressed in suits and sat silently as the prosecutor outlined his case.
Describing for the jury how the defendants allegedly beat mentally ill inmate Michael Tyree to death in August of 2015, attorney Matt Braker said the case was about “power and the abuse of power.”
Braker said Jereh Lubrin, Rafael Rodriguez and Mathew Farris beat Tyree so violently that it ruptured his spleen and liver, causing him to bleed to death in his cell.
But Farris’ attorney Bill Rapoport said, “It is not a homicide case.”
In their opening statements, defense attorneys said the coroner and sheriff jumped to conclusions, ignoring possible other causes for Tyree’s death.
“It’s either an accidental death or a suicide,” Rapoport said.
The three defense attorneys introduced the theory that Tyree was alive when the deputies left his cell on the night he died and that Tyree somehow fell on the cell’s sink, causing internal injuries.
Lubrin’s attorney also suggested Tyree’s ruptured spleen could have been caused by CPR given by her client in an attempt to revive him.
There is no surveillance video of the incident, only shots of the deputies coming and going into the pod where Tyree died.
But prosecutors gave a preview of their key evidence: text messages the deputies sent each other bragging about previous beatings of mentally ill inmates.
The defense said those beatings never happened and said the deputies were engaging in “false bravado.”
“If any of you are foolish enough to use text messaging, I could go back and make something out of them that doesn’t exist,” Rapoport said. “So they do have to be explained and they will be explained. And they’re not a conspiracy to do anything.”
Much of the prosecution’s case will rely on the testimony of inmates and former inmates.
Testimony, that the defense is saying, is tainted because of their criminal backgrounds and the fact that some of them have been diagnosed with mental illness.