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'Racially motivated' bus fight case moves to deliberation

'Racially motivated' bus fight case moves to deliberation

Jury wants to re-hear testimony of 2 witnesses
'Racially motivated' bus fight case moves to deliberation
Ariel Agudio (left) and Asha Burwell.
Photographer: Photos: MARC SCHULTZ

ALBANY -- Deliberations in a racially charged Albany bus attack trial began Tuesday afternoon, after attorneys offered their closing arguments.

The jury had little time for deliberations, however. They began work and quickly asked for testimony of two witnesses to be read back. They heard testimony of the first, a woman in the rear of the bus who was in the middle of the fight. The second witness' testimony was to be read back Wednesday morning.

Defense attorneys for Asha Burwell and Ariel Agudio argued University at Albany police who investigated the incident conducted a sham investigation that found only what they wanted to find: a defense for the university.

Prosecutor David Rossi, however, countered in his closing that, from the time of the incident until their testimony at trial, the women engaged in a "campaign of deceit."

Rossi relied on bus surveillance video from the bus ride to the university, which happened early on Jan. 30, 2016. Pausing to narrate the video throughout his closing, Rossi argued the footage showed Agudio and Burwell as the aggressors and their account -- that men attacked them based on their race -- to be a fabrication.

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 to police and repeating them later on social media and at a rally.

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

The case drew national attention, especially on social media.

Each woman faces multiple charges, the most serious being misdemeanor assault and falsely reporting an incident. 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.

Arguing for Agudio and Burwell were attorneys Mark Mishler and Frederick Brewington. They argued the women's accounts of a racially motivated attack were true, highlighting other words used during the altercation that they said were racially charged.

They also argued that investigators focused on the most recognizable racially charged word, to the exclusion of others.

"They were looking to make sure they had no confirmation, so they intentionally asked the wrong questions," Brewington argued.

The charges reflect the university's retaliation against the women for speaking about what happened, Brewington said.

Mishler spoke of his client as courageous for speaking up on the bus and defending her friend.

"She had a right and an obligation to report the crime that she experienced," Mishler said of Agudio.

The ensuing investigation, Mishler argued, "was a sham. It was a show. They were interested in damage control."

Rossi spent much of the prosecution's time on the video from the bus, showing the entire journey to the jury.

He argued the women left out important details, including that one of them threw the first punch and important context to the discussion that preceded the altercation.

He also argued men on the bus worked to break up the fight, while other men sat in their seats. The women weren't attacked, Rossi argued.

"The information they conveyed was false, and they knew it," Rossi told the jury.

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