Trial opens in death of USC student

The same day his son turned four months old, Travion Ford appeared in court facing a murder charge in the case of a USC student who was stabbed to death last fall.

The trial for the 25-year-old began Aug. 17 in front of an emotional group of family and friends. Three days later, the prosecution and defense gave their opening statements, presenting critically different versions of what happened the night 23-year-old USC School of Cinematic Arts student Bryan Frost died.

While Ford has admitted to stabbing Frost, he has pleaded not guilty to one count of murder. Ford’s public defender, Diane Butko, insisted in court that her client didn’t intend to kill Frost in the Sept. 18, 2008 incident and the act was made in self-defense.

The sequence of events detailed in Deputy District Attorney Kennes Ma’s opening statement, however, aimed to show that Ford acted not in self-defense, but out of violence.

According to Ma, Frost and two others were near the corner of 28th Street and Orchard Avenue after leaving the 901 Bar and Grill when he slammed a metal gate shut, prompting Ford — who was at his mother’s house with his fiancé, Anquenette Young — to confront the three men.

Ford and Frost exchanged words, then began to fight one another, throwing punches and wrestling on the ground. At one point, Ma told the jury, Frost pinned Ford to the ground and then got up to walk away. After being released, Ford ran inside his mother’s apartment and returned with a knife. After confronting Frost again, Ford stabbed him.

Butko’s opening remarks told a similar tale, but with key differences.

“The only reason Mr. Ford used deadly force was because he felt his life was in danger and he would die,” Butko said in her opening statement.

Butko said Ford tried to “poke” Frost with a knife he already had while he was pinned down because he was having difficulty breathing.

“Mr. Ford had a knife in the front pocket of his sweatshirt and he finally gets it and tries to poke him,” Butko said. “He’s not sure he even made contact.”

There was no second fight, Butko continued — after Frost let go of Ford, Ford ran inside the apartment complex to find help and after he was unable to do so, returned to protect Young, who Butko said was being verbally harassed by the three students. Ford and Young left the scene because he didn’t want the fight to continue, Butko said.

USC student Nicholas Wisniewski, who was with Frost and was the first witness to testify.

When Ford originally confronted Frost about the gate, Wisniewski said Ford was very aggressive and started the physical fight.

“The defendant took a swing at Bryan and Bryan responded,” Wisniewski said in his testimony.

Things then escalated, Wisniewski said. Young began to yell at Wisniewski and USC student Chris Funkhouser, who was also with Frost, while Ford and Frost both fell to the ground. After Frost let Ford up, the three walked away to avoid another fight, Wisniewski said. They then heard a shout and saw Ford coming toward them.

“He came up and sort of shoved Bryan. They swung for a few seconds and then he turned and ran away,” Wisniewski said. “It was very fast.”

After Ford and Young left, the three continued to walk away before Frost suddenly stopped.

“He turns to me and he says, ‘Yo dude, I think I just got stabbed,’” Wisniewski said. “And he lifts up his shirt and I see blood pouring out of his left side.”

Wisniewski also recounted trying to keep Frost alert while he called the USC Department of Public Safety.

“I propped his head up on my knees and was talking to him, trying to keep him awake,” he said.

Frost’s mother — who traveled from Idaho to Los Angeles for the trial with other members of Frost’s family — sobbed as Wisniewski’s call to DPS was played in the courtroom.

Ford — who also had family members in the courtroom — sat stoically throughout the proceedings, often looking back toward his family and blowing kisses in their direction.

While Ma stressed Ford’s aggression in his remarks, Butko said Ford was remorseful for what happened.

“When he found out this individual had died, he fell to his knees,” she said. “He was crying, he was praying — he didn’t know what to do.”

Ultimately, the jury must determine if Ford acted in self defense or if the act should be considered murder.

The trial continues this week, and Ma said he expects closing arguments to occur Wednesday or Thursday.

If convicted of first-degree murder, Ford faces 26 years to life in prison.