Victims testify at opening of Burton trial

Alleged rapist Antonio Burton’s defense team made no efforts to veil its strategy in the trial’s opening statements Monday in Hennepin County District Court: Puiassance Andersen committed the assaults, not Burton.
And two victims’ testimony did little to refute that theory.
Burton is the last of four men to face charges of burglary, robbery and sexual assault stemming from an Oct. 8, 1996 incident, in which three female University students’ off-campus apartment was broken into by four men.
Burton, Andersen, his brother Giezwa Andersen and Victor Porter entered the second-story apartment in the early morning hours through a sliding glass door on the balcony. Money, jewelry, a television and one of the victim’s cars were stolen after the apartment was ransacked by the men.
The women were held at knife point and their heads were covered with a comforter during the attack. Two of the women were raped by the same man during the incident. But since none of the women ever clearly saw any of the men’s faces during the assault, the exact identity of the attacker remains in question.
“The truth is not hard to hear; if you listen to the right voices,” said defense attorney Joseph Margulies in his opening statement to the jury. “The victims — and they are victims — will tell you that these two women were assaulted by P.J. (Puiassance) Andersen.”
Margulies conceded that Burton, who was present in the courtroom, was involved in the incident.
“I’m not going to play games with you,” Margulies added. “I’ll tell you right up front … he is guilty of burglary, but he is not a rapist.”
Porter and the Andersen brothers have already been made accountable for their involvement in the burglary and robbery of the apartment, but all were acquitted of any rape charges.
Prosecutor Steve Redding opened the proceedings by methodically outlining evidence against Burton to be heard throughout the trial.
Members of the all-white jury of eight women and six men wore shock and disgust on their faces as Redding described the events that took place on the night of the attack. They also appeared surprised when Redding said witnesses would testify that Burton was bragging the next day that he had sex with two women the night before.
“And as the newscaster is talking about what happened (at the women’s apartment) Antonio Burton jumps up and says, I made the news!'” Redding said.
Margulies countered by saying that those who will testify to this are “snitches who have sold their story to stay out of prison.”
Giezwa Andersen, who is serving a five-year sentence, has agreed to testify against Burton in exchange for some charges being dropped.
Redding also previewed evidence such as fingerprints, DNA from biological fluids found at the scene and inconsistencies in statements by Burton that he said will prove Burton’s guilt.
The two rape victims, both University students who transferred from the Duluth campus in 1995, gave their testimony in front of a packed gallery of friends, family, supporters and media. Tears flowed both on the stand and in the audience as the women recalled the assaults.
Margulies aggressively pursued testimony from the victims that originated with their statements to police, in which they said a comment was made while the assaults were taking place.
According to their testimony, while the women were being led from one bedroom to another, one of the men said, “I’ve got your back, P.” Puiassance Anderson is also known as “P.J.” and “P.”
One of the women then testified that while the first assault was taking place, another one of the men who was in the room said, “What the fuck are you doing, P?”
She said she believed the question was being directed at the man committing the assault. She added it was asked in such a way to indicate surprise, as if the sexual assaults were not a planned part of the break-in.
Redding reminded the victim during his questioning that she had indicated in her statements to Minneapolis police the next morning that the comment was made after the assaults occurred.
“Does that refresh your recollection?” Redding asked her as he handed her a transcript of the interview.
“Yes,” she said.
Redding then asked her again when the question was asked.
She replied, “I believe it was said during the assault.”
Testimony will continue this morning in Hennepin County District Court.