After a month-long trial and 21 hours of deliberation, a jury convicted former Harvard graduate student Alexander Pring-Wilson of voluntary manslaughter yesterday morning.
Following emotional statements from the victim’s relatives and Pring-Wilson’s parents, Cambridge Superior Court Judge Regina Quinlan sentenced Pring-Wilson, 26, to eight years in prison, with the option for parole after six.
The trial, which was broadcast by Court TV, has drawn national attention because of the perceived tension between the wealthy white student and the Hispanic victim.
Pring-Wilson fatally stabbed Cambridge teen Michael D. Colono in the early morning hours of April 12, 2003 following an altercation outside of a pizza parlor.
Defense attorney E. Peter Parker said that the defense plans to appeal the verdict within the 30-day time limit.
But District Attorney Martha Coakley said in a press conference yesterday afternoon that her office is satisfied with the outcome.
“We never take delight in a guilty verdict,” she said. “[But] some justice was obtained and Alexander Pring-Wilson was held accountable for the killing of Michael Colono.”
Those close to Alexander Pring-Wilson said the verdict and sentencing were unduly harsh (Please see story, below).
Before the sentencing, Colono’s mother, sisters and ex-girlfriend presented tearful statements about their loss and asked the judge to put Pring-Wilson behind bars for up to 20 years.
PATH TO THE VERDICT
A court clerk said yesterday that Pring-Wilson will not go directly to the Massachusetts Correctional Institution, a maximum security prison.
He must first go to the state prison in Concord, where the Department of Corrections will decide where he will serve.
Like the trip ahead, Pring-Wilson’s road to prison has been anything but direct.
According to accounts presented in court, Pring-Wilson, a student at the Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies, was walking to his Somerville home after a night of bar-hopping when he got into a fight with Colono outside Pizza Ring on Western Ave.
Colono, who was seated in his car with two others, allegedly made a comment to Pring-Wilson as he passed. Pring-Wilson allegedly opened the door of Colono’s car, instigating a fight.
But during the trial, Pring-Wilson’s attorneys argued that Colono was the one who opened the car door, causing Pring-Wilson to use his three-inch Spyderco military blade in an act of self-defense.
Soon after his arrest at 8 a.m. on April 12, Middlesex District Court refused to grant him bail because his knowledge of five languages meant he posed a flight risk. On May 14, 2003, a judge released Pring-Wilson from jail on $400,000 bail after an appeal. He has been under house arrest since then.
The trial, originally set for last November, was pushed back because of a the defense’s pre-trial motion to change the trial venue to western Massachusetts to avoid a biased jury in Cambridge. The court denied that motion in May.
At that time, the defense also sought to suppress statements that Pring-Wilson made on the morning of his arrest in which he claimed to be an innocent bystander to the incident.
The court ruled that Pring-Wilson was not suffering from enough mental and physical trauma to inhibit his ability to make voluntary statements.
GRIEVING AND PUNISHMENT
Those close to Pring-Wilson and Colono delivered emotional statements before the sentencing that left half the people packed into the courtroom sniffling and wiping their eyes. The rest sat solemnly pondering Colono’s death and Pring-Wilson’s crime.
Cindy Guzman, Colono’s ex-girlfriend and the mother of their four-year-old daughter Jade, said she thinks about his death every day.
“He was my best friend, my shoulder to cry on, my soldier and the love of my life,” she said.
Jade sat in the front row as the judge handed down the sentence. Court officials said she wrote her statement in crayons, surrounded by lopsided hearts. Guzman told the court what Jade wrote: “I love my daddy so much, I miss you, Daddy, and I wish you were here.”
Colono’s sister Wanda Rivera also read the translated statement of Ada Colono, the victim’s mother.
“On the day my son was killed, time stopped,” she said.
While family members mourned Colono’s loss, the emotion in the air intensified when Pring-Wilson’s parents took the stand to speak for their son.
“I am the defendant’s mother and I love him very much,” said Cynthia Pring, breathing heavily between sobs. “He’s never been in trouble, he’s never been in a fight, he’s been a role model for everyone who’s ever met him...he’s everything I ever wanted in a son.”
She couldn’t find the words to describe her sorrow for the Colono family.
“I feel for them so strongly...,” she said, trailing off in tears.
A lawyer himself, Pring-Wilson’s father Rusty Wilson noted that criminal justice is not best served by retribution.
“There’s no help to society by just putting a person into prison, on probation he can do things, he said. “There’s no need for revenge.”
Defense attorney Ann Kaufman’s eyes were bloodshot when she completed her tearful character assessment.
“He has lived in anguish” she said. “He’s been in therapy every week in agony. There isn’t a single conversation we’ve ever had with him where he does not start to cry.”
Kaufman said throughout the trial, Pring-Wilson’s friends and family spoke of the defendant as if he were “Gandhi.”
And she stressed that probation would be punishment enough.
“He’s not going to be able to vote, to be a lawyer, to hold a position at a college,” she said. “And he accepts that.”
—Robin M. Peguero contributed to the reporting of this story. —Staff writer Hana R. Alberts can be reached at email@example.com.