Pring-Wilson’s Challenges at Re-Trial
For the defense team, the elation they feel following Judge Regina Quinlan’s decision to award Alexander Pring-Wilson a new trial must be tempered by the challenges that remain. After all, the easy part is done. The Supreme Judicial Court’s recent decision in Commonwealth vs. Adjutant allowing a defendant to introduce an alleged victim’s history of violence to support a claim of self-defense forced Quinlan’s hand. It will prove a far more difficult task for the defense to convince the next jury to acquit Pring-Wilson. It was, after all, Pring-Wilson’s version of the stabbing that persuaded the first jury to convict him of manslaughter. Considered against the available forensic evidence showing that Pring-Wilson had plunged the knife into Michael Colono, Pring-Wilson’s claim that he only slashed at his attackers from a kneeling position is entirely untenable. And at the next trial, the Middlesex County District Attorney’s Office will be entitled to introduce the transcripts of Pring-Wilson’s testimony from the first trial. Pring-Wilson’s unfortunate lie will dog him.
Having already testified under oath, Pring-Wilson will be tempted to stick with his story. He can argue that it was this version that persuaded the jury not to convict him of 1st or 2nd degree murder. No doubt, should he change his story now, the prosecution will delight in beating him over the head with his earlier version. Changing stories late in the game is not without risks. It makes no difference that the defense will be able to inform the jury of Colono’s propensity for violence, no jury is going to acquit a man who stabs another man to death and then lies about the stabbing. Carol Neville, the jury forewoman of his original jury, told Court TV that “the piece we kept coming back to is that Michael was stabbed five times with a pretty big knife in some pretty significant spots on his body. That didn’t line up with Alex’s saying he was on his knees fighting for his life.” Indeed, had Colono not been such an unsavory character, this jury might have convicted Pring-Wilson of murder.
Pring-Wilson’s lawyers must have a talk with their client. It is simply not possible for the defense to persuade a jury to acquit Pring-Wilson without first persuading Pring-Wilson to come clean about the stabbing. Pring-Wilson stabbed Colono and he did so deliberately. But, he had every right to defend himself, even using lethal force. Pring-Wilson was under no obligation, moral or legal, to refrain from using every available means to defend himself against to two drug dealers with an appetite for guns and violence. The victim of an unprovoked and vicious attack on a dark, lonely street in a less than desirable neighborhood, Pring-Wilson was fighting for his life. He would have been justified in stabbing them both.
Nothing short of the truth will persuade the next jury to acquit him.
“Fists Flying” – The Case Against Pring-Wilson
Prosecution Eyewitness Account:
As Alexander Pring-Wilson walked down Western Avenue wearing flip-flops and talking on his cell phone he thought he heard someone call to him. In a nonthreatening manner, he inquired, “Were you talking to me?” Wearing a black bandana, Michael Colono, a convicted crack dealer, snapped at him, “Yeah, you wanna do something about it?” The crack dealer exploded out of the car with fists flying at Pring-Wilson. The crack dealer’s cousin, Samuel Rodriguez, who’s lengthy record includes convictions for illegal possession of a gun, assault and battery with a dangerous weapon, assault and battery and malicious destruction of property, joined the attack. He sucker punched Pring-Wilson in the head, throwing the punch “with everything he had,” trying to knock him out. Moments later, Pring-Wilson was on the pavement, brandishing a knife. When Rodriguez backed away, Pring-Wilson got to his feet, put the knife in his pocket and walked away.
That, unbelievably, was how Rodriguez, the Commonwealth’s star witness, described the confrontation. So menacing was Rodriguez as he testified in his full-length black overcoat, that a Court Officer positioned himself just to his side. Yet, the Middlesex County District Attorney’s Office indicts Pring-Wilson, a Harvard University grad student, of 1st degree murder. Just what would the Middlesex County District Attorney’s Office have had Pring-Wilson do, allow these two convicted felons to beat him to death?
In her opening, Assistant District Attorney Adrienne Lynch asserts that neither Colono nor Rodriguez was armed. It was, she claims, murder. From the safety of the Middlesex D.A.’s Office, with its bullet proof glass, Lynch and D.A. Martha Coakley decided that Pring-Wilson exceeded the reasonable bounds of self-defense. Perhaps, it was Coakley’s call. But, just how was Pring-Wilson to know that neither of his two attackers was armed? On this dark street, fighting for his life, Pring-Wilson was to divine their intent? He was to presume there was a line of decency that neither attacker would cross? According to the District Attorney’s Office, Pring-Wilson was only permitted to use lethal force after his attackers had crippled him, leaving their intentions unmistakable.
Martha Coakley’s Office put its trust in the word of Rodriguez. This is the same Rodriguez that fled the scene, who hid behind the Trader Joe’s on Memorial Drive, who testified, “I didn’t know how I was going to be able to talk my way out of this,” and who was so concerned with evading the Cambridge police, he wouldn’t take his dying cousin to the Cambridge Hospital.
Rather than prosecute Rodriguez for assault and battery, Coakley charges Pring-Wilson, a white, multilingual Harvard student from Colorado, with 1st degree murder. Extending Coakley the benefit of the doubt that her decision was not the product of political correctness, why did she indict Pring-Wilson for 1st degree murder? Under Massachusetts law, an excused killing that occurs during “sudden combat” is manslaughter. Coakley’s Office routinely indicts citizens accused of an unlawful killing for 1st degree murder when the accusations suggest no more than manslaughter. The decision to indict Pring-Wilson for 1st degree murder was certainly tactical – using the threat of life imprisonment to intimidate Pring-Wilson into accepting a manslaughter plea.