With the presentation of two passionate closing statements by defense lawyer James Nobles and assistant attorney Raymond J. Benitez to a packed courtroom on behalf of the people and the state of New York onMonday, April 18, the trial of junior Daren Venable is nearly complete.
Venable is being tried for second degree murder for the stabbing of fellow UR student Jeffrey Bordeaux, Jr. the morning of Jan. 15 at a Delta Upsilon (DU) Fraternity party. His trial began on Monday, April 11, and continued throughout the week.
The defense is attempting to prove that Venable was justified in stabbing Bordeaux, Jr. on a claim of self-defense when facing deadly physical force.
The court heard testimony from many different sources, including Deremi Bordeaux, Bordeaux, Jr.’s younger sister, Kauffman Entrepreneurial Year student Gautam Sharma, Take Five Scholar Neil Suryadevara, freshman Erin Shae, sophomore and brother in the DU fraternity Kyle Coapman and junior Shaelom James, the young woman at the heart of the dispute between Bordeaux, Jr. and Venable, all of whom witnessed the incident.
UR Security officers Kevin Couchman and Edson Sawyers also testified, as well as Chris Rynders, a Rochester Police Department officer, who had been at the scene as well, Rochester police Investigator Garry Galetta, Monroe County Medical Examiner Dr. Caroline Dignan, and Marie Cadot-St. Hilaire, Venable’s former guidance counselor from his high school in Brooklyn.
Further evidence was garnered from a video and audio recording of Venable’s interrogation the morning the incident occurred, taken by Galetta and investigator Glen Weather, and the knife found on Venable when he was searched by Rynders at the scene.
Nobles commenced his closing statement dramatically, smashing his fist into his open palm to create a resounding, repetitive cracking sound.
“[Venable was] being pummeled by the drunken, enraged [Bordeaux, Jr., a] sculpted athlete, [with the] last crack as hard as the first,” Nobles said.
The rest of his statement rested on the defense’s claim that Venable was justified in stabbing Bordeaux, Jr. because of the deadly physical force that Bordeaux, Jr. had chosen to inflict upon him.
“At the point [Venable] believ[ed] his life was in danger, he was justified in using deadly physical force, whether it was one stab wound or five,” Nobles claimed.
Nobles made sure to define deadly physical force for the court, noting that Venable had been in danger of loss of vision, brain damage and permanent disfiguration at the hands of Bordeaux, Jr. He had already retreated as far as he could and had used the best of his abilities to defuse the situation. He attempted to call Bordeaux, Jr. off, and held his hand out in front of his body in an attempt to create distance between himself and Bordeaux, Jr.
“I stepped back as much as I could,” Venable was reported to have said. “I did what I had to do to save my life.”
“[Venable] had a duty to retreat, but he had nowhere to go. He was cornered and trapped. We heard that over and over again from witnesses…the larger, faster track star, [Bordeaux, Jr.] would’ve beat him to the door,” Nobles reminded the court.
Nobles asserted that Bordeaux, Jr. had begun the dispute, saying that “every [person who gave testimony] described Mr. Bordeaux as the initial aggressor.”
Nobles also concentrated on the character of Bordeaux, Jr. He told the court how James had admitted that Bordeaux, Jr. had had violent outbursts in the past, at one point accosting another man she had been dating. He also noted that Bordeaux, Jr. had had a blood alcohol content of 0.08, the legal point where driving while intoxicated begins.
“She was afraid of what Jeff would do and she told Daren that,” Nobles said.
Benitez was charged with the task of proving that Venable was not justified in fighting back as he had.
“This is a case about passion, betrayal [and Venable’s] inability to act in a normal or expected manner,” he said. “This case is about rage. It’s simply about rage.”
Benitez cited the fact that the evidence did not always seem consistent, specifically regarding the amount of alcohol Venable had consumed and Bordeaux, Jr.’s height.
“What you’re seeing on the part of the witnesses is because they care for [Venable] … They tend to omit or exaggerate evidence,” he said. “This is [like having a] finger in front of the sun. They can slant the testimony, but eventually the sun is going to burn you because it is so overwhelming — that is the evidence in this case — it is so overwhelming that it is not possible.”
Benitez also expressed his concern that many of the witnesses knew Venable and were therefore reluctant to speak against him, calling them “interested witnesses … [that] know and care for [Venable].” He referenced Cadot-St. Hilaire’s testimony specifically, mimicking her account of Venable’s character and claiming that she did not know Venable during his time at UR, she didn’t go to parties with him and she was unaware that he carried a blade.
The unavoidable fact that Venable has had training in conflict resolution was not left alone, either. Benitez mused inquisitively about this contradiction of principles and actions.
“How interesting that a person equipped with training for conflict resolution would resort to carrying a weapon on a college campus of all places … how ironic,” he pondered. “How could a mediator be so insensitive, so uncaring to others’ needs, to those of a common friend that he shared meals with … so insensitive, uncaring, cold.”
There was also a question of why it was necessary that a knife be introduced into the fight, given that Venable had had experience with hand-to-hand combat.
“[Venable] has hand-to-hand combat training―martial arts training, combat training, rigorous naval ROTC training that makes kids into men capable of fighting,” Benitez said, refuting defense’s portrayal of Venable as a “meek little kid.”
Despite Nobles’ conviction that Venable was in danger of deadly physical force, Benitez cast doubt on this idea.
“It took seven hours of reflection for ‘life threat’ to come out,” he said. “Was he afraid on any level that [Bordeaux, Jr.] would take his life? Absolutely not … [Venable] was in command, he’s always in command. He didn’t fear anything―that’s why he appeared calm and cool.”
Did Venable emit an aura of guilt? Benitez appeared to think so.
“He had a consciousness of guilt,” Benitez said. “He was tending to his little black eye on the couch while holding a pillow … He was hiding the knife, we know now, hiding his hands under the cushion and putting the knife in his back left pocket … It takes a more thorough search by Rynders to find the knife when they are in the patrol car.”
Nobles had a different take on his actions.
“[Venable] doesn’t leave, hide [or] try to get rid of [the] knife. [He] doesn’t even wipe the blood off. Why? Because he didn’t do anything wrong … These are not the reactions of someone who has something to hide,” Nobles said, also citing the fact that Venable had cooperated with the police by willingly following their directions and giving them fingerprints and a DNA swab.
Judge John DeMarco will deliberate on the verdict of the trial and announce his decision on Thursday, April 21 at 1:30 p.m. Unfortunately, due to the publication schedule of the Campus Times, we were unable to include the verdict in this article. Please check www.campustimes.org for updates.
Goldin is a member of the class of 2013.