Pring-Wilson Trial Begins

Both sides deliver opening statements in trial of former graduate student

Attorneys delivered opening statements yesterday in the murder trial of former Harvard graduate student Alexander Pring-Wilson.

Assistant District Attorney Adrienne Lynch focused on the events leading up to the stabbing death of Cambridge teen Michael D. Colono in April 2003, while defense attorney Rick Levinson focused on his client’s character.

The two sides presented differing accounts of the early-morning stabbing outside of Pizza Ring on Western Ave., with the prosecution calling it murder and the defense calling it self-defense.

Lynch argued that the defendant was walking by the parked car where Colono sat when the 18-year-old called attention to Pring-Wilson’s stumbling, laughing at him and calling him “shit-faced.” After the two exchanged words, Pring-Wilson opened Colono’s door and with his folding knife stabbed Colono five times, the prosecution said.

But the defense contended that it was Colono—not the defendant—who opened his own car door and that Colono threw the first punch.

“The evidence isn’t here for you to see,” Levinson told the jury, in reference to the prosecution’s concession that police recovered no identifiable prints from the car to prove who opened the door.

Levinson said Pring-Wilson was attacked by Colono and his cousin Samuel E. Rodriguez.

“[Pring-Wilson’s] sole purpose was to stop the beating they were administering to him,” Levinson argued.

But Lynch emphasized that Pring-Wilson repeatedly refused medical attention and did not appear seriously injured to police.

The prosecution also argued that a 911 call Pring-Wilson made to the police immediately after the incident—where he claimed he was “just a fucking bystander”—showed that he kept describing the incident differently.

The defense had attempted to suppress Pring-Wilson’s 911 call to the police last May, but a judge denied the motion.

According to Lynch, Pring-Wilson told the police over the phone that he had witnessed a stabbing, and had attempted to “be a big guy” and intervene.

Once police arrived on the scene, Lynch said the defendant told police no stabbing had occurred and that the victim and perpetrator had fled in the same direction.

Though the prosecution portrayed Pring-Wilson as the aggressor, the defense criticized Colono’s own character.

“You will learn that the 18-year-old had a blood alcohol level of .08,” said Levinson. “Michael was on probation—the drinking, as I have said, is a violation of his probation,” he added later.

Levinson mentioned that Colono’s cousin Rodriguez had slapped his girlfriend Giselle Abreu in a physical fight earlier that night. Both Abreu and Rodriguez witnessed the stabbing.

The defense portrayed the defendant—a student at the Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies at the time of his arrest—as a classy, peaceable man with no criminal history.

“He doesn’t fight—either drunk or sober,” Levinson said. “He plays by the rules. He was in the Harvard Masters’ Program. He speaks five languages. He is colorblind. He had a Spyderco knife. He always carried his Spyderco knife. It is a utility knife. He’s carried the knife since he was 10.”

TESTIMONY BEGINS

Witnesses who testified yesterday after nearly two hours of opening statements included Mary Kate McCartney, who spent time bar-hopping with Pring-Wilson prior to the stabbing, and Abreu.

McCartney told the court that Pring-Wilson had been drinking moderately the night before the stabbing, and verified that Pring-Wilson had been carrying a knife throughout the entire evening.

Abreu described her take on the incident in full detail, demonstrating the crime scene with the prosecution’s extensive collection of on-scene pictures and maps. She testified that it was Pring-Wilson who first opened the car door after exchanging words with Colono.

“Michael got out of the car and he began fighting,” Abreu told the court. “He didn’t take his time getting out of the car. Punches were going everywhere. [Pring-Wilson] was hitting him around his stomach and his upper body.”

Abreu said she did not see who threw the first punch. Pring-Wilson’s attorney said that Abreu initally told a state tropper that Colono had thrown the first punch.

After Colono and Rodriguez returned to the car, Abreu drove away from the scene because she was worried Pring-Wilson would call the police, and she feared “getting in trouble” because she did not have a license to drive and that in the car there was alcohol that Colono and Rodriguez had been consuming.

Court TV’s extensive coverage today focused on whether Pring-Wilson’s Harvard background might influence the jurors’ opinions about the case.

In an audience poll entitled “The 13th Juror,” 68 percent of respondents thought that Pring-Wilson’s Harvard connection would not help his case, while 32 percent of respondents believed it would.

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

—Staff writer Robin M. Peguero can be reached at peguero@fas.harvard.edu.