SJ jury begins deliberations in jail guards' murder trial

Bay City News
Thursday, May 25, 2017
(Left to right) Santa Clara County Correctional Deputies Matthew Farris, Jereh Lubrin and Rafael Rodriguez.
(Left to right) Santa Clara County Correctional Deputies Matthew Farris, Jereh Lubrin and Rafael Rodriguez.

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Jury deliberations are set to begin Thursday morning in the murder trial of three jail guards accused of beating a mentally ill inmate to death at San Jose's Main Jail in 2015.

The jury was dismissed after closing arguments today, in which defense attorneys for Jereh Lubrin, 30, Rafael Rodriguez, 28, and Matthew Farris, 28, attacked the quality of the investigation into bipolar 31-year-old Michael Tyree's death on Aug. 26, 2015.

RELATED: Closing arguments made in murder trial for Santa Clara jail guards in alleged beating death

The three are also charged with the assault under color of authority of another inmate, schizophrenic 48-year-old Juan Villa, the night Tyree was killed.

Lubrin is additionally charged with a prior assault on Villa on July 25, 2015.

Tyree's injuries included lacerations to the liver and spleen, which was nearly severed in half.

The defense has argued that county medical examiners jumped to conclusions when determining the cause of Tyree's death, spending limited time on the investigation and being unduly influenced by inmates' accounts of the alleged assault.

"It started with the sheriff's office," Farris' attorney William Rapoport said, calling the investigation "inadequate," "incompetent," "negligent" and "shameful."

Defense attorneys have claimed that Tyree's death was caused when he slipped or fell off his combination toilet-sink and landed on the corner of the sink, leaving a visible chevron-shaped injury that attorneys have claimed is consistent with the sink corner.

But in his rebuttal, prosecutor Matt Braker pointed out that numerous inmates have testified hearing screams and a dull thud before the cell fell silent while the deputies were inside.

If Tyree had fallen, he would not have died or fallen unconscious instantly and the cell would not have gone silent, Braker argued.

RELATED: Santa Clara County jail inmate describes night Michael Tyree died

Judith Odbert, Lubrin's attorney, resumed her attacks on the credibility of the inmate witnesses as she continued her argument, which began Tuesday afternoon.

Odbert argued that inmate witness Juan Carlos Perez called Santa Clara County sheriff's Sgt. Herman Leon after Tyree's body was pulled out of his cell on Aug. 27, 2015 in order to "cut another deal," referring to the fact that he has testified before in exchange for delayed deportation.

Matthew Pavone, Rodriguez's attorney, argued that there is no evidence that the deputies discussed the alleged attacks on Villa and Tyree during cell searches before they are said to have taken place in module 6B.

Rodriguez, Pavone said, was also normally assigned to work module 6C, where "an entirely different population of inmates" was housed and was not present when Villa and Tyree acted out earlier in the day on Aug. 26, 2015.

But the fact that the two had behavior issues that day indicates a motive for the assaults, Braker said in his rebuttal.

Pavone criticized the "deficiencies baked into Dr. O'Hara's report," attacking the fact that O'Hara did not take samples of the feces, blood and vomit found on Tyree's cell floor, wait for the results of a toxicology report before declaring Tyree's cause of death or considering possible suicidal ideations indicated by writing over the doorway in Tyree's cell.

"It's politically popular now to charge police officers with murder," Rapoport said. "Some of that is well deserved, but this isn't."

"This is not a murder case. This is an unfortunate accident," Rapoport said.

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