Alexander Pring-Wilson, a former student at Harvard’s Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies, is charged with stabbing 18-year-old Michael Colono to death last April after an early morning altercation outside a local pizza parlor.
The local media’s “excessive coverage and prejudicial material” of the stabbing has made it “difficult, if not impossible...to find and seat a fair and impartial jury” in Middlesex County, according to the motion for a change of venue filed by attorney Jeffrey A. Denner and his associates.
The defense holds that the media has represented the stabbing as a class conflict. “Almost every article and news story, then, has emphasized/sensationalized the socioeconomic, class, racial and ethnic divisions which define this case—the wealthy, seemingly-entitled, privileged, white, Harvard-educated, armed, intoxicated graduate student juxtaposed with the unarmed, blue collar, urban dwelling, uneducated Hispanic young Cambridge father,” the motion said.
The motion requests that the trail be moved from Middlesex Superior Court to Berkshire County Superior Court in Pittsfield, Mass. A phone survey commissioned by the defense showed that media outlets in Berkshire County have not covered the case extensively and residents will have fewer preconceptions.
The same survey found that 47 percent of 400 randomly-selected Middlesex residents reported they were familiar with the case. However, 45 percent had no recollection of the event. The survey also indicated that more residents polled believe Pring-Wilson is guilty than innocent.
Cambridge Mayor Thomas A. Sullivan said moving the trial is not necessary.
“I firmly believe that he could get a fair trial here,” he said, citing the large size of Middlesex and the diversity of the jury pool as evidence.
Sullivan said he “doesn’t buy” that town-gown relations between Harvard and Cambridge will influence the jury.
“I don’t believe [the tension] would carry itself over,” he said. Middlesex County District Attorney’s spokesperson Emily J. LaGrassa said the prosecution will not comment on the motion to change venue.
“We’re not going to comment on motion at this time given that it’s still pending before the court,” she said.
Dane Professor of Law Lloyd L. Weinreb said that defense lawyers commonly ask to move the trial, but he added that “whether it would be a change of venue depends on whether a judge believes you can’t get a fair jury in this area.”
He said a judge would consider a change of venue if it is “not possible to find 12 impartial jurors who don’t have a opinion about the case.”
But he said that proving a change of venue is necessary is a difficult task.
“You need a very large amount of publicity such that you can’t find jurors that are untainted by it,” he said. “There are many people in Cambridge who are competent to serve as jurors, who wouldn’t have paid too much attention to the case.”
Cole Thompson, senior news producer of Court TV’s Catherine Crier Live!, said the network still plans to broadcast the Pring-Wilson trial regardless of a change in location.