“What occurred on our campus in those early morning hours of Jan. 15 will forever affect the Bordeaux and Venable families. My heart continues to go out to both families,” UR President Joel Seligman said in a post on the University website on Sunday, April 10.
“I urge everyone to remain objective and to uphold the values of due process and the presumption of innocence before a verdict,” he continued.
This message was posted in anticipation of the start of junior Daren Venable’s trial on Monday, April 11, for murder in the second degree after the fatal stabbing of fellow UR student Jeffrey Bordeaux, Jr. The proceedings commenced as a bench trial in a nearly full courtroom after Venable reviewed the waiver he had previously signed to give up his right to a jury trial.
The defense is claiming that Venable acted in self-defense in his attack on Bordeaux Jr., referencing the fact that he only stabbed Bordeaux Jr. after Bordeaux Jr. had assaulted him to the extent that he could not escape. Venable is being represented by defense lawyers Brian DeCarolis and James Nobles.
“January 15th was not a fight at the [Delta Upsilson (DU)] Fraternity House. It was not a fight over a woman,” DeCarolis said in his opening statement. “There was an attack perpetrated by Jeffrey Bordeaux, [Jr.] and the victim was Daren Venable. It should be viewed through this lens. We ask that you share the opinion … that [Venable] was only defending himself and that [he] is not guilty.”
Assistant Attorney Raymond J. Benitez is arguing on behalf of the people of the state of New York.
“Venable took [Bordeaux Jr.’s] life because he didn’t want to end up under the bus … We will prove that no reasonable person, knowing what Daren Venable knew, would share the belief that Jeffrey Bordeaux, [Jr.] was using deadly physical force,” Benitez said. “I am confident that the court will find Daren Venable guilty of murder in the second degree on the fateful day of Jan. 15.”
Benitez called Bordeaux Jr.’s younger sister, Deremi Bordeaux, 19, to the stand as the first witness. The RIT sophomore had been with her brother mere hours before he had attended the “Gangsta’s Paradise” themed party at the Delta Upsilon Fraternity, where the stabbing occurred.
She testified that her brother had come to visit her at RIT from about 5 to 8 p.m. and explained that they had then eaten at a restaurant called Salsarita’s Fresh Cantina, located on the RIT campus with her boyfriend in tow.
She described her brother as about six feet tall, with broad shoulders and a big smile, and remembered that he had been wearing a sweater with a pale yellow button-up shirt underneath. She did not see him drink, nor did she see him with a weapon of any kind.
Upon being shown a picture of her brother, taken at the Monroe County Medical Examiner’s Office before an autopsy was performed, Deremi Bordeaux gasped and was immediately in uncontrollable tears. The courtroom was cleared while she calmed herself, after which she identified the individual in the picture as her brother. The picture was then allowed to be entered as evidence.
Deremi Bordeaux’s testimony quickly concluded after the defense said they had no questions for her.
The next witnesses called to the stand had been at the DU house the night of the stabbing. Their testimonies appeared consistent not only with each other’s accounts, but also to that of the other witnesses, only varying in small details depending on what they could remember and their vantage points.
Gautam Sharma and Neil Suryadevara, both Take Five Scholars, the latter of whom is a member of the Sigma Beta Rho Fraternity, of which Venable was a member, had also attended the DU party. Sharma has known Venable for about one to two years and was also familiar with Bordeaux, Jr. He had worked with Venable at his on-campus job of troubleshooting equipment and securing the campus.
“[Sharma] will tell you that he attended a frat party — he will testify that there came a time when he saw both Daren Venable and Jeffrey Bordeaux, Jr. — when he was in the living room [where the incident occurred] and saw the defendant engaged in a verbal confrontation with the victim,” Benitez said.
Benitez proceeded to question Sharma about whether Venable was ever issued any type of instrument or tool while on the job. Sharma maintained that he had not, but admitted that they were sometimes given box cutters to un-ackage equipment and then immediately required to return them. He had never seen Venable carry one on the job.
Sharma also remembered that he had seen one or two knives in Venable’s suite at UR. He described seeing a flip knife that he believed might have been black.
Suryadevara has known Venable for a little over a year. They saw each other on a day-to-day basis and socialized together frequently.
“[Venable’s] one of my frat brothers and friends,” he said while on the stand.
“They essentially live together and are familiar with each other’s daily habits like siblings, with an understanding for each other,” Benitez affirmed.
Suryadevara also admitted to having seen a knife in Venable’s dorm room — he described it as a folding pocket knife, but had never seen Venable carry it around school. He also recalled hypothetical converstaions he had had with Venable where Venable had discussed what he would do if ever in a fight. He described himself as passive and Venable as more active — someone who would want to take control of his own destiny.
Both men offered fairly similar accounts of what happened the night of Jan. 14 and 15.
Sharma explained that he had gone to the DU party with a few friends, including Suryadevara, and that they had entered the house around 11 to 11:30 p.m.
“[I] was in the basement for the majority of the party,” Sharma said. “[It] was just a bunch of college kids dancing, having a good time … relaxing.”
Although Sharma remembers seeing Venable at the party, he does not recall if the defendant had anything to drink at the house but said he had seen Venable have one or two drinks before the party. Venable did not, according to Sharma, appear intoxicated.
It was quickly determined that Bordeaux, Jr. and junior Shaelom James had been dating on and off for a good period of time, but had broken up at the time of the party.
“She [ran] into [Bordeaux, Jr.] at the party and [told] him she [was] no longer interested [in him] in no uncertain way,” Benitez explained.
James and Venable had begun dating at the beginning of the spring semester — all three were mutual friends. Bordeaux was not yet aware of their relationship — he knew that James had a new boyfriend, but did not know that it was Venable. He found out only when he saw the two hugging on a couch in the DU living room.
“What is going on here? What are you doing?” Sharma remembered Bordeaux, Jr. asking. He described Bordeaux, Jr. as “pretty furious,” as evidenced by his stance and the way he was speaking.
“That’s fucked up — I can’t believe you would do that me,” Bordeaux, jr. went on to say, according to Suryadevara.
Despite his initial anger, it appeared that Bordeaux, Jr. eventually came to terms with the arrangement, as he is remembered saying, “[You] know what, I’m going to let it go,” and then leaving the room.
He quickly returned, however, saying, “Fuck this. I’m not going to let it go.”
According to Sharma, Bordeaux Jr.’s demeanor was loud, animated and aggressive, while Venable appeared to be calm, cool and collected. At this point Bordeaux, Jr. began yelling statements along the lines of, “Let me punch you. I want to punch you. I’m going to punch you in the face.”
Freshman Erin Shae, another witness who attended the DU party, explained that, after Bordeaux, Jr. threatened to punch Venable, Venable responded by saying, “If you do, it’s gonna get bad.”
Bordeaux, Jr. disregarded the warning and proceeded to approach Venable and James, at which point James ran to another area of room, appearing frightened, according to Sharma.
“I [was] concerned for everybody’s safety at that point,” Sharma said during Nobles’s cross-examination.
Suryadevara reported that at this point Venable had his left hand out, motioning “don’t do this.”
“[Venable was] trying to defend himself. [He was] holding both hands near his head with his fists clenched in a defensive stance,” Sharma said. Venable did not make a move though, until Bordeaux, Jr. threw the first punch.
For every step that Venable took backward, Bordeaux, Jr. took one forward. According to Sharma, Venable continually attempted to calm him down along the way. After about three or four shoves from Bordeaux, Jr., Venable landed on a sofa where he began to take a beating.
“Nobody [came] to intervene, he is on his back [and it was] obvious to [Venable] that the attack is not going to stop,” DeCarolis said. “Punch after punch is delivered to … [his] face — [he] reacted in the only possible way — he [stabbed Bordeaux, Jr.] to save his life.”
Sharma admitted to be being concerned that Venable “would be severely injured.”
There was only one door for people to go into and out of the living room, prompting the question if there had been a possibility for Venable to escape Bordeaux, Jr.’s attack.
Sophomore Kyle Coapman, a brother in the DU Fraternity, explained during his testimony that, in order for Venable to get away from the attack, he would have had to go directly through Bordeaux Jr.. Sharma was also under the impression that Venable would not have been able to extract himself or move freely until Bordeaux, Jr. had gotten up.
“The behavior [was] continuous—it [was] relentless—it [was] consistent with taking a beating,” DeCarolils recounted. “He [was] concerned for his eye. He [was] concerned for his head.”
During the beating, Suryadevara attempted to intervene.
“It’s not worth it, Jeff. Stop,” he remembered saying.
When Bordeaux, Jr. eventually stopped his attack on Venable Bordeaux Jr.’s face was glazed over and covered in blood. Suryadevara then saw Venable walk out of the room without saying anything. Suryadevara did not immediately realize where the blood had come from — he thought for a moment that it could have been part of a costume.
Venable received military training in the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps program at UR, including hand-to-hand combat. When asked why he had not used this training when trying to fight off Bordeaux, Jr. he responded that he “would have felt like a 12-year-old girl fighting [Bordeaux, Jr.]”
Venable stabbed Bordeaux, Jr. four times.
“If he’s not stopping, then I’m not either,” Venable said during an interrogation with investigator Gary Galetta of the City of Rochester Police Department in the Major Crimes Unit and investigator Glen Weathers.
“That’s the way I live my life,” Venable said during the same interrogation. “I don’t change because the environment changes.”
After being asked his outlook had changed anything since Bordeaux, Jr. had died, Venable responded “I be real. I don’t give a fuck — I was attacked.”
But Venable did not leave the scene of the crime, DeCarolils reminded the court.
“It took five to seven minutes for the police to come and [Venable] stays. He doesn’t flee — [he] sits feet from where the beating took place, doesn’t go to the bathroom, doesn’t try to get rid of the weapon — he had nothing to hide,” DeCarolils said.
In addition to the testimony of Sharma, Suryadevara, Shea and Coapman, testimony was given by Kevin Couchman and Edson Sawyers, another UR Security officer, and Chris Rynders, an officer in the Rochester Police Department.
The trial is presently ongoing and a verdict has not yet been reached.
Additional reporting by
Leah Buletti class of 2013
and Tim Minahan class of 2012.
Goldin is a member of the class of 2013.