Pring-Wilson Jury Selection Starts Today

Jury selection begins today in the trial of a Harvard graduate student charged with murdering a Cambridge teen, after more than a year of legal wrangling and setbacks for the defense.

Alexander Pring-Wilson, a student at the Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies at the time of his arrest, stabbed Michael D. Colono, 18, on April 12, 2003.

The fight escalated after an early morning altercation outside of Pizza Ring on Western Avenue.

Pring-Wilson has admitted to the attack in court, but claims that it was an act of self-defense.

The trial, originally set for last November, was pushed back because of a pre-trial motion to change the trial venue to western Massachusetts. The defense feared a biased jury in Cambridge. The court denied that motion in May.

Despite the motion’s failure, the selection of an impartial jury remains critical, said Emily J. LaGrassa, a spokesperson for the district attorney (DA). She said the court is taking special precautions, such as extensive questioning, to assemble a jury with no preconceived opinions.

Earlier this summer, Jeffrey Denner, who was Pring-Wilson’s original lawyer, left the case because of what he called a “breakdown in communication” with the defendant. His replacement, Mark Berthiaume, also quit the defense this summer.

Pring-Wilson hired Boston attorney E. Peter Parker to represent him.

Parker declined comment, but an unnamed source told the Boston Herald that the previous lawyers left because they did not agree with the strategy put forward by Pring-Wilson’s parents, who are high-profile lawyers in Colorado.

The DA’s office expects jury selection to wrap up within the week, leading into a month-long trial.

This trial has drawn local and national media attention, thanks to elements of town-gown tension and to the sheer drama of the stabbing.

Court TV plans to broadcast the trial, said Cole Thompson, a senior news producer at Catherine Crier Live!.

Thompson has said Court TV’s viewers will be intrigued by the incident’s overtones of class and even race conflict.

Pring-Wilson’s defense has stressed his spotless criminal record and his family’s good standing in opposition to Colono’s background, which has included drug violations and time in juvenile correction.

According to accounts presented in court thus far, Pring-Wilson and Colono engaged in a verbal altercation as Pring-Wilson walked by the car where Colono sat with two others.

Colono made a comment to Pring-Wilson, and then Pring-Wilson allegedly opened the door of Colono’s car. In the ensuing fight, Pring-Wilson stabbed Colono five times with his penknife.

Pring-Wilson claims he was the victim of circumstances, but the prosecution charges that the attack was unwarranted.

Pring-Wilson is currently under house arrest in Somerville.

—Staff writer Hana R. Alberts can be reached at alberts@fas.harvard.edu.