ALBANY — It all started with a song — a drunk college student's version of "99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall."
That's what Asha Burwell recalled about her now infamous fight on a packed CDTA bus last January in a police interview captured on video just after the incident.
The video of the former University at Albany student speaking to an Albany police investigator was played for a jury Wednesday morning on the third day of a trial in which the Albany County District Attorney's office will attempt to prove that Burwell and her friends lied about being the victims of a hate crime when they themselves were the aggressors.
"She was like intoxicated like really screaming loud...she just kept singing," Burwell told the investigator.
She offered the girl a sandwich if she would stop singing, Burwell said. She seemed interested at first, but when she turned away Burwell heard the girl call her a "ratchet B word."
That's when Ariel Agudio, a co-defendant in the case who is friends with Burwell, stepped in and asked "What did you say?"
When Agudio, who is also black, kept asking the girl, who is white, what she said, people on the bus shouted at her to "shut up," Burwell recalled.
"That's when she got offended and we started like having a conversation about how, 'Why is it that when I start getting loud people are making comments about this loud black girl but when this girl who was being obnoxious and loud the whole time, no one said anything?'"
Agudio and Burwell started talking to two white men who were seated opposite the singing white women about this difference in racial experiences. They seemed understanding at first, Burwell recalled, but then one of them said "Your friend's a whale B" and a white friend of the singing woman shouted at Agudio and Burwell, "Oh my effing god, you guys are so effing ignorant."
"I thought that she was the one who hit me first because, like, once she said that I don't know if I blacked out or if I just, like, because when I turned my head it happened very fast," Burwell said. "I looked back and then the next thing I know I was being hit."
The jury broke for lunch partway through the video.
Several other witnesses were called Wednesday morning, including two former UAlbany students who captured some of the fight on cellphone video and Snapchat.
The trial officially got under way Tuesday morning after four alternate jurors — three white women and one black woman — were selected to join a dozen trial jurors on the bench, whose makeup includes nine white jurors, three black jurors and an even division among men and women.
The story of a racially motivated attack drew national attention from the get-go after Burwell, a black UAlbany student, took to Twitter on the morning of Jan. 30, 2016 to detail a series of harrowing events she said took place hours earlier: She and her friends, Agudio and Alexis Briggs, who are also black, got jumped on a bus by a group of white students hurling racial slurs, bystanders watched without helping, and when she and her friends called police, they didn't seem to care.
But police and prosecutors, after speaking to witnesses and obtaining surveillance footage from the bus, disputed this account, saying the women made it up and were themselves the aggressors. Briggs accepted a plea deal last June.
The District Attorney's office told jurors that they would prove the women knowingly lied, and that the women themselves were the perpetrators of a crime.
Defense lawyers for Burwell and Agudio, however, said they'll convince jurors the women sincerely believed themselves to be the victims of a racially motivated attack and that rather than investigate that attack, the DA's office chose instead to defend the university's reputation as reports of the bus attack went viral.
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