‘Power Trip’: Trial Underway For SC Co Deputies Accused Of Murdering Jail Inmate
(BANT) – Opening statements began Tuesday morning in the trial of three Santa Clara County correctional deputies charged with the murder of Michael Tyree, a 31-year-old bipolar inmate found dead in his cell in 2015.
Jereh Lubrin, 30, Rafael Rodriguez, 28, and Matthew Farris, 28, have pleaded not guilty to the murder of Tyree and assault under color of authority of Juan Villa at the jail on Aug. 26, 2015.
“Power and the abuse of power: that’s what this case is about,” began prosecutor Matt Braker, attributing Tyree’s death, ruled a homicide by blunt force trauma by county medical examiner Joseph O’Hara, to a “power trip” by deputies.
The deputies targeted mentally ill inmates like Tyree and Villa for beatings, Braker alleged, promising jurors that they would hear testimony from other inmates “who lived under their rule.”
Tyree, who Braker said was homeless, was arrested on July 11, 2015 on two misdemeanor warrants after he failed to show up for court dates related to petty theft charges.
On Aug. 26, 2015, prosecutors allege that the defendants beat Villa, who suffers from severe mental illness, in his cell without provocation as he yelled “ow” and “stop.”
Prosecutors said deputies then beat Tyree, causing his spleen to rupture, as other inmates heard him screaming “sorry.”
Braker dimmed the lights and flipped through a slideshow of text messages sent between the defendants and their friends and coworkers, boasting about beating inmates and complaining about the presence of security cameras.
A text from Farris read “Lol so funny!! You guys punch him and s—. If a dude downtown does that it’s a full blown beat the f— down.” The Main Jail in San Jose where Tyree died is referred to as the downtown jail. A response read, “No, there were 2 cameras rolling.” Farris said in a text, “hate the camera.”
Another deputy sent a text message to Farris reading “I’m going to start pulling people out at 2am for no reason to twist them up,” referring, Braker explained, to twisting inmates’ arms behind their backs.
Texts from Rodriguez read “I slapped a guy yesterday” and “I told him I bet your parents never spanked u but I will hahah.”
Farris’ defense attorney, William Rapoport, said the text messages should not be taken at face value, dismissing them as “false bravado among coworkers.” “It’s not this vast conspiracy,” Rapoport said. “They are not in any way what the prosecution has imagined them to be.”
Braker showed a photo taken of Tyree’s naked body as it was found with vomit and feces on the corpse as well as on the cell.
Hours after Tyree was pronounced dead, Farris’ Google history showed searches including “what happens if you eat poop/human waste,” “If a human ate poop, what would actually happen?” and “What happens when you eat poop,” suggesting, Braker said, that he was looking for an alibi.
An hour later, Rodriguez searched “can someone die if they are punched in the ribs” and “can someone die if they are punched in the armpit.”
Lubrin’s defense attorney Judith Odbert listed a number of expert witnesses in the medical field who would testify that Tyree’s death was not a homicide, calling into question the qualifications of O’Hara.
“The important part of this case is the science,” Odbert said. “The investigators in this case did not do their job.”
Matthew Pavone, defense attorney for Rafael Rodriguez, said O’Hara spent less than an hour in Tyree’s cell and concluded after 45 minutes that there was nothing of evidentiary value in the cell.
Odbert referred to inmate Juan Carlos Ortega Perez as a “handpicked,” “professional” witness who is benefiting from his repeated testimony in the case by avoiding deportation.
Furthermore, the defense argued that Villa’s mental illness, which causes him to suffer visual hallucinations, makes his account not credible.
Witness testimony is set to continue this morning.