ITHACA, N.Y. — A Cornell University student charged with a hate crime earlier this month pleaded not guilty to the charges in court Wednesday morning, and his new attorney says he has “scientific evidence” that will exonerate the student.
John Greenwood, 19, was charged with third-degree attempted assault as a hate crime, a class A misdemeanor. He’s also being charged with misdemeanors for second-degree aggravated harassment and fourth-degree criminal mischief.
Greenwood was initially charged with misdemeanor third-degree assault which, if charged in connection with a hate crime, would have been upgraded to an E felony. Because the charge has been changed to attempted assault, the hate crime addition upgraded the charge from a B to an A misdemeanor.
Related: Cornell student John Greenwood charged with hate crime
Greenwood, who is white, is accused of being part of a group of people at Psi Upsilon who attacked a black male while calling him racial slurs during the early morning hours of Sept. 15 on the 300 block of Eddy Street in Ithaca.
According to police records, at least two fights and bouts of name calling broke out between people at the fraternity house and students at an adjacent home.
Multiple witnesses say a fight broke out at the multi-student home and both fraternity brothers and their guests left the property while shouting racial slurs.
Ron Fischetti, Greenwood’s new attorney, said the complainant in the case — a black male student who attends Cornell University — followed Greenwood and his friends back to the fraternity.
Fischetti said his client and friends were in the fraternity house with the door closed when the complainant entered the home without permission.
“What happened is he (the complainant) ran to their house and burst into the door where they were and started a fight with a number of people who were there,” Fischetti said.
The complainant told police that Greenwood and his friends came out of the fraternity house and attacked him on the lawn.
Fischetti said, “That’s completely untrue. That’s false. It never happened that way, and we will absolutely prove that it didn’t happen that way. He (the complainant) entered the house. He started the fight.”
Court records: Witnesses say white men provoked fight, attacked at least 3 Cornell students and yelled racial slurs
Fischetti said while the Sept. 15 incident escalated to pushing, shoving and name calling, the incident was part of a long line of events between the students at the homes who were “in competition” with each other. He mentioned other instances where the students at the homes broke into each other’s parties and gratified each other’s property, “things of that nature from college students.”
He said Greenwood did not deserve to be charged with a hate crime.
“The District Attorney decided to charge this as a hate crime for a bloody nose and some trash talking back and forth. I think that’s wrong,” Fischetti said.
Van Houten previously said he would let a grand jury decide whether the incident was a felony hate crime. But on Nov. 13, he charged Greenwood with third-degree attempted assault as a hate crime, a class A misdemeanor.
Van Houten said at the time, “Based upon my review of the police investigation and the evidence, it was my determination that it should be charged with a hate crime, but the appropriate level is attempted assault, third-degree (instead of a felony-level charge) … The evidence is what controls what charges can be filed. In order to charge someone with assault, there needs to be evidence of a physical injury which is defined by the penal law.”
Fischetti said he would have preferred to present evidence to a grand jury, which only oversees felony charges, so that his client could be exonerated.
Fischetti claims to have “scientific evidence” that will prove that Greenwood did not give the complainant a bloody nose and that the fight happened inside the fraternity instead of on the lawn.
He declined to say whether the “scientific evidence” is physical evidence, witness testimony, or video.
However, he said Greenwood voluntarily took three lie detector tests administered by a forensic expert. During the tests, Greenwood was asked whether the complainant was in the fraternity house at the time of the fight and whether Greenwood hit the complainant.
Greenwood allegedly confirmed that he did not hit the complainant and that the fight happened in the fraternity house.
Greenwood was present during the interview and declined to answer whether he used racial slurs during the incident.
But he previously released the following statement to media in regard to the incident:
Last Friday, I was involved in a verbal exchange which I deeply regret.
I used language that was completely unacceptable and inappropriate; language that neither reflects my values nor who I am.
For that, I accept full responsibility and sincerely apologize to my fellow students, the entire Cornell community and my family and friends.
Looking ahead, I am committed to doing everything I need to make things right.
In the fullness of time I am confident that the truth of what happened will be clear. However, even a full exoneration cannot justify my use of such abhorrent language.
Fischetti said, “With regard to the name calling — an inappropriate name — that came back-and-forth from people. As to what he allegedly said and other people said, I’m not goign to answer those questions. You’ll see it at the trial.”
Fischetti said he will make motions to have the case dismissed and if they are not granted, he will take the case to trial.
“I mean, he shouldn’t be here today,” Fischetti said of Greenwood. “He’s never, never, never before in his life ever had any physical contact with anyone. He’s never had a fight before (yet) he sits here charged with a crime.”
Greenwood’s next court appearance is at 9 a.m. on Feb. 21 in Ithaca City Court.
Judge Richard Wallace permitted the defense to waive Greenwood’s personal appearance during further non-trial proceedings. If the case is not dismissed, it will likely go to trial in April.
Greenwood is still a student at Cornell, but is on leave at the moment. His judicial administration case is currently on hold, Fischetti said.
Greenwood remains the only person charged in the incident, which left the complainant with a bloody nose and sent him to the hospital. Court records appear to indicate that the complainant was unable to identify other people involved in the fight.
Featured image: Ithaca attorney John Stevens (left) and New York City- based attorney Ronald Fischetti (center) leave the Ithaca City Court Wednesday morning with Cornell student John Greenwood (right).