San Jose

Opening Statements Set for Santa Clara County Jail Inmate Death Case

Three corrections deputies are accused of beating inmate Michael Tyree to death in August 2015

The murder trial surrounding the beating death of Santa Clara County inmate Michael Tyree continued Tuesday with opening statements, and a prosecutor didn't hold back from pointing out that the accused correctional deputies abused their power.

A prosecutor took to the floor for 56 minutes to argue that county corrections deputies Jereh Lubrin, Rafael Rodriguez and Mathew Farris thrived on power and abused that power when they allegedly beat the mentally ill inmate to death in August 2015.

Prosecutor Matthew Baker also claimed that Rodriguez took to the internet after the alleged beating and searched if a person could die after being struck in the ribs and armpits. The deputy district attorney then showed the jury texts sent between Farris and Rodriguez depicting the two bragging about alleged violent clashes with other inmates.

Inmates scheduled to testify later in the trial are expected to say that they heard Tyree beg the guards to stop hitting him. The inmates are also likely to argue that the three men had a reputation for picking on disabled inmates.

Countering the prosecutor, a defense attorney for Lubrin argued that Tyree's death was not a homicide, and that Tyree died when his liver was lacerated during CPR.

"This is not a homicide case," said William Rapoport, an attorney representing Farris.

Rapoport on Tuesday told jurors science will show Tyree did not die from a beating.

"We do know the cause of death," Rapoport said. "It's him standing on the toilet and slipping back. We have skid marks from his feet."

The murder trial in the beating death of Santa Clara County inmate Michael Tyree began Monday with jury selection, and it was a relatively quick process. Damian Trujillo reports.

Tuesday's opening statements come one day after the trial began with jury selection, which was a relatively quick process. Seven men and five women were selected.

The county corrections deputies, who have have been on paid leave since their arrests, were in the San Jose courtroom Monday. Farris is the son of a retired and respected deputy district attorney.

Attorney Jaime Leanos, who represents another inmate who claims he too was beaten by guards in the same jail, said the leadership of Sheriff Laurie Smith might also be put on trial if the policies of the jail and training of the guards is brought into question, especially when the guards' text messages before and after Tyree’s death come up in testimony.

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