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Jury hears opening statements in CDTA bus attack trial

Jury hears opening statements in CDTA bus attack trial

Case drew national attention
Jury hears opening statements in CDTA bus attack trial
Ariel Agudio (left) and Asha Burwell.

ALBANY -- Two University at Albany students lied when they reported a racially motivated attack to police more than a year ago, a prosecutor said Tuesday, in opening statements at the students' trial.

If not for video taken of the altercation, which happened on a city bus, others might have been falsely charged with hate crimes, prosecutor David Rossi told the jury.

Defense attorneys for Ariel Agudio and Asha Burwell told the jury in their own opening statements that the case does come town to race, including what the women heard and perceived during the incident, which happened just after 1 a.m. on Jan. 30, 2016.

The defense attorneys said evidence and testimony will lead the jury to acquit.

Agudio, 21, and Burwell, 21, are accused of physically assaulting a 19-year-old woman on the CDTA bus and falsely claiming they were victims of a racially motivated attack. They are accused of making the claims both to police and at a rally later.

Agudio and Burwell were both University at Albany students at the time of the incident.

The case drew national attention, especially on social media. Investigators, however, concluded Agudio and Burwell were the aggressors.

Each faces one count of third-degree assault, a misdemeanor; second-degree harassment, a violation; and three counts of third-degree falsely reporting an incident. Burwell faces an additional charge of falsely reporting an incident, while Agudio faces an extra attempted assault count.

Four counts were dismissed just prior to trial, due to unavailable witnesses.

A third woman, Alexis Briggs, 21, was also charged in the case but pleaded guilty last summer to disorderly conduct in connection with the incident.

In his opening statement, Rossi laid out what he said the video of the attack will show, as well as what he expects the witnesses to say.

Rossi asked the jury to size up each of the witnesses on the stand.

"Ask which one of these witnesses would be going to jail if it wasn't for that video tape," Rossi said.

Arguing for Agudio and Burwell were attorneys Mark Mishler and Frederick Brewington. They both argued accounts of the fight on the bus are backed by perceptions and experiences. The women perceived statements made on the bus as racial, including what sounded like someone calling one of them a whale, and another person shouting at them to get a job.

Mishler argued the jury won't find the women's statements to be anything other than reasonable, honest and sincere.

"There's no good reason why we should be here, unless there's something else going on," Mishler said.

Brewington urged the jury to evaluate the facts as they come in, not as prosecutors project them. He argued the injuries the women suffered prove they were attacked: Burwell suffered a concussion.

He also argued that, on a bus filled with college students, it was clear that several had been drinking, though they were not of legal age to do so. Despite that, they were given a free pass by police, he said.

The attorney focused at one point on the final count against the pair -- falsely reporting an incident -- based on their statements at a rally that resulted in "public alarm and inconvenience, including social media threats," according to the indictment.

Brewington highlighted the agency that largely investigated the case, the University at Albany police. He argued the job of those police was to protect the university, not find out what happened.

The trial is expected to run into next week. Judge Roger McDonough is presiding.

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