Pring-Wilson Gets Retrial

Change in state law leads judge to throw out former student’s conviction

Eight months after former Harvard graduate student Alexander Pring-Wilson was convicted of manslaughter in the 2003 stabbing death of Cambridge resident Michael D. Colono, the judge in his trial threw out the verdict.

Middlesex Superior Court Judge Regina L. Quinlan said on Friday that Pring-Wilson deserved a new trial in light of a March 14 Mass. Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) ruling that a victim’s violent past can be admitted as evidence in trial, even if the defendant did not know about the victim’s violent history at the time of the incident.

Prosecutors said they planned to appeal Quinlan’s decision.

At the time of Pring-Wilson’s 2004 trial, Massachusetts law gave judges discretion on whether to admit a victim’s violent past as evidence.

Quinlan said that Pring-Wilson deserved a new trial because evidence she originally suppressed “went directly to the heart of the case’s central dispute” over whether Pring-Wilson or Colono had initiated the fatal fight.

Pring-Wilson, who has been serving the start of his six-to-eight-year prison term since October 2004, will appear in court today, where his lawyers will argue that he should be freed on bail while awaiting a new trial.

During the original trial, lawyers for Pring-Wilson had sought to portray Colono’s stabbing as an act of self-defense. But an important part of that strategy—presenting the allegedly violent past histories of Colono and his cousin, who was also at the scene—was blocked by Quinlan.

Pring-Wilson, at the time a student at Harvard’s Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies, had allegedly never met either the 18-year-old Colono or his cousin, Samuel E. Rodriguez, before April 12, 2003.

According to accounts presented at trial, Pring-Wilson was walking home after a night of bar-hopping when he got into a fight with Colono and Rodriguez outside Pizza Ring on Western Avenue.

Colono was fatally stabbed during the altercation, although Pring-Wilson claimed at trial that Colono and Rodriguez severely beat him first.

Because the SJC ruling does not apply retroactively, Quinlan was not forced to annul the verdict. But in April she voluntarily called a hearing to consider how the SJC ruling impacted her decisions during the Pring-Wilson trial.

In an April court document, Quinlan wrote that “although the court views the evidence as legally sufficient to support the verdict returned by the jury, the integrity of the evidence has been rendered suspect as a result of the decision of the SJC.”

Relatives of both Pring-Wilson and Colono reacted with emotion at the prospect of beginning a trial anew. Speaking from Colorado Springs, Colo., Pring-Wilson’s mother, Cynthia Pring, said “We were so excited when we found out this morning. It’s definitely cause for optimism.”

Marcos Colono, the brother of Michael Colono, said that “what bothers me mostly is that I understand we’re starting from scratch.”

—Material from the Associated Press was used in the reporting of this story.

—Staff writer Brendan R. Linn can be reached at blinn@fas.harvard.edu