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What you need to know for 08/20/2017

Split verdict for ex-UAlbany students in CDTA bus fight trial

Split verdict for ex-UAlbany students in CDTA bus fight trial

Each woman faced multiple charges
Split verdict for ex-UAlbany students in CDTA bus fight trial
Arial Agudio (left) and Asha Burwell.
Photographer: Photos: MARC SCHULTZ

Two former University at Albany students are guilty of falsely reporting a racially-motivated attack on a CDTA bus, a jury found Wednesday.

But the same jury acquitted both Ariel Agudio and Asha Burwell of assault and harassment charges related to the Jan. 30, 2016 incident, as well as other falsely reporting charges.

In all, the jury found Agudio and Burwell guilty of two separate counts of falsely reporting an incident.

The jury found they lied in 911 calls shortly after the incident when they described being jumped by a group of males, that it was a racial crime and that they were struck by boys and called the "N-word."

The jury also found they falsely reported the crime on social media and at a rally, causing "substantial public alarm and inconvenience to the community."

The falsely reporting acquittals related to statements they made to a police sergeant and officer in the aftermath of the incident.

“Falsely reported incidents create immeasurable harm, not the least of which is the doubt, cynicism, and suspicion a person with a legitimate claim will likely receive in the future,” Albany County District Attorney David Soares said in a statement. 

“It also means expending precious law enforcement resources investigating falsehoods instead of helping real victims," Soares said.

The two convictions mean Burwell and Agudio each could face up to two years in jail if their sentences ran consecutively. They could also receive no jail time. They are to be sentenced June 16. 

The women had been free without supervision since early in the case. After the verdict, Judge Roger McDonough ordered them to be supervised by the County Probation Department. They are to report Thursday morning.

Agudio, 21, and Burwell, 21, were accused of physically assaulting a 19-year-old woman on the CDTA bus and falsely claiming they were victims of a racially-motivated attack.

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 faced 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.

Agudio and Burwell were represented by attorneys Mark Mishler and Frederick Brewington, respectively.

Afterward, they praised the jury for the not guilty verdicts and said they will examine what to do next with the guilty verdicts.

"The young ladies have said all along that they have been victimized on the bus and that they were not the ones to have assaulted or harassed anyone," Brewington said. That "has been made to be clearly true from the verdict."

Among the items the attorneys will look at is whether the verdicts on the falsely reporting charges are consistent with each other.

Mishler said the case had been blown up into the "crime of the century," something that he laid at the feet of the District Attorney's Office. 

"The charges were not necessary, the indictments were not necessary," Mishler said. "All of the resources that were put into this were not necessary."

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Attorneys Frederick Brewington (center) and Mark Mishler talk to reporters Wednesday after an Albany County Court jury issued a split verdict against their clients Ariel Agudio (between Mishler and Brewington) and Asha Burwell (left of Brewington). (STEVEN COOK)

The defense attorneys argued in closing statements Tuesday that the women's accounts of a racially-motivated attack were true, highlighting words used during the altercation that they said were racially charged.

They also argued investigators focused only on whether the most recognizable racially charged words were used during the fight, to the exclusion of other racial references.

Prosecutor David Rossi spent much of the prosecution's closing focusing 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.

In his statement, Soares highlighted Briggs' guilty plea last summer.

"From the beginning, the Office of the Albany County District Attorney has insisted that any restorative justice resolution must begin with an apology for the harm caused by these young ladies," Soares said. "Only one chose to apologize for falsely representing the incidents and accepted responsibility.  We respect the decision of the jury after what was undoubtedly a very difficult case."

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