SAN JOSE, Calif. - Tuesday was the first day of the murder trial of three correctional guards accused of fatally beating an inmate in the Santa Clara County jail.
"It's either an accidental death or suicide." That was the gist of the defense attorneys' opening statement.
Prosecutor Matt Braker says inmate Michael Tyree was beaten to death in August of 2015. The three sheriff's correctional guards, Jereh Lubrin, Rafael Rodriquez and Matthew Farris sat impassively listening as Braker told the jurors that power and abuse of power are what the case is all about.
Several jurors winced when Braker showed a photo of Tyree's bruised naked body. He displayed text messages sent primarily by Farris which Braker said was disdainful of inmates, and that it showed the guards enjoyed watching them suffer.
Defense Attorney Bill Rapoport, the only lawyer who spoke on camera afterward called the texts meaningless bravado in a macho jail culture.
"It is not a homicide case," Rappaport said. "It's either an accidental death or suicide."
But the prosecutor said that after the autopsy that the death was caused by blunt force trauma. The medical examiner ruled it a homicide.
The defense told jurors sheriff's investigators did a sloppy job in reviewing Tyree's death, and that the defense would use evidence they gathered to prove he was still alive after the three deputies left his cell that night.
"Listen to the science," attorney Judith Odbert said. "Not to the prosecution's handpicked witnesses."
The defense believes a simple accident led to Tyree's death.
"The cause of death happened as a result of his standing on his toilet and falling off and slipping and his skid marks actually are on the toilet seat from his feet."
Defense attorneys also say Tyree was fully dressed when deputies left his cell, but naked when they found him dead.