UAlbany CDTA Bus Trial: Verdicts Reached

Two former UAlbany students have been acquitted of most of the charges they faced in the case surrounding a fight on a CDTA bus last year.

Asha Burwell and Ariel Agudio were charged with seven counts, including assault, harassment and false reporting of an incident. They were acquitted on five of the charges, but found guilty on two counts of falsely reporting an incident. The false reporting counts relate to their 911 calls, social media posts and appearing at a rally and raising public alarm.

Prosecutors argued the two made up a racially motivated attack on a CDTA bus last January and were actually the aggressors of the fight. However, the defense claimed the women were called names they interpreted as being racist, prompting the fight.

"These young ladies who said all along that they had been victimized on a bus and that they were not the ones who assaulted or harassed anyone has been made to be clearly true by the verdict of this jury," said defense attorney Frederick Brewington.

Their attorneys say this whole trial should never have happened.

"Charges were not necessary and indictment was not necessary," said attorney Mark Mishler. "All of the resources put into this were not necessary."

District Attorney David Soares responded to the verdict with a statement: "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."

Sentencing is June 16.

April 26 -- 11:45 a.m.

Its day two of verdict watch and in addition to hearing read back of testimony -- jurors asked to see more video from the bus ride. 

They asked specifically to see 9 minutes of the ride from the center to rear angle where you can see Defendants Asha Burwell and Ariel Agudio sitting toward the back of the bus and eventually stand up from their seats and get entangled with people in the far back. 

Jurors also asked to see another angle pertaining to the harassment charges with bus rider Robert Maccarthy.

He's the one putting up a phone with the flash on in front of Ariel Agudio's face and she appears to knock it out of his hand.

Then Asha Burwell comes back on the bus and looks like she mouths "get off of her" and reaches her hand toward the scuffle between MCCarthy and Agudio. 

It is very hard to see what's happening in Benta Nkromah's cell phone video. It looks like the phone is positioned on someone's lap -- but during cross examination of Agudio the prosecution said Nkromah's video is the one where you can hear Agudio yelling the phrase white “b” words.  

April 25 -- 4:25 p.m.

The jury is deliberating the case of two former UAlbany students accused of falsely reporting a racial incident.

During closing arguments Tuesday, the defense argued investigators didn't ask the relevant questions that would prove the incident aboard a CDTA bus last year was racially motivated. It also accused investigators of intentionally preventing Ariel Agudio and Asha Burwell from trying to seek justice.

Meanwhile, the prosecution used its closing arguments to show video of the entire bus ride in which the fight occurred. It also said that, although there may have been racial elements involved in the fight, it doesn't matter, since Agudio admitted Monday in testimony that she originally lied to police that she was being repeatedly hit by boys on the bus.

April 25 -- 2:19 p.m.

 

 

April 24 -- 5:15 p.m.

Another day of testimony in Albany saw both former UAlbany students accused of falsely reporting a racial incident take the stand.

Both defendants took the stand today to tell their version of what happened January 30, 2016. Ariel Agudio and Asha Burrell still say there was a racially motivated attack on them -- racial because they were called "ratchet b****es." Burwell says she heard the N word twice, but no other witnesses who testified said they heard it.

Agudio was first to take the stand and during cross examination details of how she reported the fight to police and what she said on the stand did change. Assistant District Attorney David Rossi said, "When you told police you were being repeatedly struck by boys, that wasn't the case, was it?" Agudio answered "correct."

So much of this trial has been centered around whether or not the word 'ratchet' is racist. Agudio and Burwell both said they took it to mean 'ghetto.' A witness, Mary Glisson, allegedly muttered that to them under her breath after Burwell offered her a sandwich to stop singing, and that's what started the whole fight.

"In that situation, I feel like she only said it because we were black," Agudio said.

During cross examination of Burwell, the prosecution brought up several tweets that they say came from Burwell's account four years ago, where she wrote things like "who knew Ohio was so ratchet?" And "UAlbany is ratchet AF".

Burwell said she couldn't remember tweeting those things.

 

 

Both the prosecution and defense rested their cases, and closing arguments begin tomorrow morning.

April 24 -- 4:15 p.m.

 

 

 

 

April 24 -- 11:33 a.m.

The prosecution has rested its case in the trial of two former UAlbany students accused of lying about a racially motivated attack on a CDTA bus last year.

This morning -- jurors heard from a police officer who spoke with Asha Burwell after the incident.

Last week, the alleged victims of Burwell and Agudio testified that they did nothing to provoke the fight when it started. However, the defendants have argued that they were subjected to racial slurs while on the bus - which prompted the fight.

At issue is whether several phrases said by others on the bus could have been interpreted as racist.

The defense will call three witnesses to the stand, but did not indicate if the defendants will testify.

April 21 -- 6 p.m.

Compelling testimony was given Friday in the trial of two former UAlbany students accused of falsely reporting a racially-motivated attack on a CDTA bus last year.

The victims, Gabrielle Camacho and Mary Glisson, testified Friday they did nothing to provoke an attack by Asha Burwell and Ariel Agudio. Glisson said she was singing loudly and Agudio told her to shut up. She also said she watched Camacho get punched in the face, and stepped in to try and shield her friend.

Upon cross examination, Glisson admitted Camacho had said the phrase "get a job" to the women, something defense attorneys said is inherently racist when spoken to a black woman. But Camacho testified that she says "get a job" to anyone who bothers her, since she was a kid.

The trial continues Monday.

April 21 -- 3:59 p.m.

 

 

 

 

April 21 -- 12:19 p.m.

This morning's testimony was dominated by witnesses who saw the now-infamous fight aboard the CDTA bus.

During the fight, most of the witnesses say they never heard any racial slurs directed toward Asha Burwell and Ariel Agudio. Some did say they heard the words "ratchet" and "get a job," being used as insults. 

But at least one witness also testified that she heard the defendants insulting white people that night.

April 20 -- 5:57 p.m.

Day four in the trial of two former UAlbany students came down to one word and what it means.

To many people, "ratchet" means a tool for tightening bolts. To others, including Ariel Agudio and Asha Burwell, the word is racially offensive slang for a "ghetto" black person.

UAlbany Police investigator Benjamin Nagy testified Thursday, and said that while probing the now-infamous UAlbany CDTA bus fight, he was searching for any racial motives. That would include the so-called "N-word." But it appears now that Nagy's vocabulary of racist terms did not include "ratchet" — a term both Burwell and Agudio say was used against them right before the the bus fight.

April 20 -- 12:34 p.m.

The third day of testimony was spent watching an old UAlbany's interrogation video of Ariel Agudio. Burwell's was yesterday.

It shows how complicated the case has become. The statements made in the video seem to give credence to both sides in the case. 

Agudio told police investigators about the fight on the bus saying: 

"I turn and I see Asha's getting hit, so I went over and I just started hitting these girls, because they were ganging up on Asha."

But then later she addresses the alleged racial component, saying: 

"Other than ratchet [expletive], there was nothing I heard personally. I know my friends did, but I didn't hear anything said."

The definition of the word "ratchet" is now up for discussion. It is a slang term, but Agudio says that it can mean "ghetto" someone coming from a low income, majority minority neighborhood.

The UAlbany police investigator wasn't looking at the word as necessarily derogatory in his investigation. He was looking more along the terms of the "n" word.

Perception seems to be an important part of proceedings today.

April 19 -- 5:05 p.m.

Video was the focus of the second day of testimony in the trial of former UAlbany students Asha Burwell and Ariel Agudio.

Prosecutors say the women told investigators they were assaulted on a CDTA bus last January and called racial slurs, when in reality, prosecutors continued, they were the aggressors in the fight.

Video of the fight was admitted into evidence after two witnesses testified Wednesday. Both witnesses say they recorded the fight on their cell phones, but they are not sure if the altercation was racially motivated or not.

The videos will be key evidence used in the trial going forward.

A third woman involved, Alexis Briggs, took a plea deal, pleading guilty to a violation in exchange for performing community service.

April 19 -- 12:42 p.m.

Key witnesses Will Donovan and Penelope Sanchez testified in the CDTA bus assault trial Wednesday morning. Both of them shot cell phone videos of what ultimately became the first images the public saw of the fight.

Both Donovan and Sanchez lived on the UAlbany campus and testified that they did not know what caused the fight. The each said they only turned around and began to watch and record the fight when they heard a loud commotion.

Under cross examination from the defense, both Donovan and Sanchez admitted they did not know what provoked the fight, and that they couldn't hear any comments, racist or not made, and couldn't say if the confrontation was racially motivated.

 

April 18 -- 5:13 p.m.

Opening statements took place in the trial of two women accused of falsely reporting an attack on a CDTA bus last year.

Fifteen months after Asha Burwell and Ariel Agudio were involved in a fight aboard a CDTA bus, the two were in court with their attorneys Tuesday to make the case they are the victims of that brawl, not the aggressors. The reason: their race, as African American women.

By now, the story is well known: The two were aboard the bus when they got into an argument with several white students. Eventually, Burwell and Agudio began to throw punches, although CDTA surveillance does not show how or why they were provoked.

They would later tell police, a gang of white people assaulted them, calling them the N word and other racist names. In court, the defense attorneys said one of the young women, was called a "whale" and "told to get a job," remarks they took as racist.

From Mark Mishler's opening statements: "Race was a part of this, and racial bias was a part of this. It's not fabricated and it's not made up."

But the prosecution says the racially motivated assault was made up, and falsely reported and disproven by the facts.

As assistant district attorney David Rossi told the jury, "You're not here to solve all the racial woes of society; your job is to decide this case based on the facts and the indictment."

The indictment charges Burwell and Agudio as the ones who caused the fight, and as the actual attackers.

Defense attorney Frederick Brewington countered, "There was a series of comments made to both these ladies; it is relevant that we not allow anyone to forget that."

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