Former student Alexander Pring-Wilson was tried and convicted last fall for fatally stabbing Michael D. Colono during an altercation outside a pizzeria on Western Avenue, in what Pring-Wilson argues was self-defense. But the three-week trial may have been for naught if Judge Regina Quinlan orders a retrial in light of a recent Superior Judicial Court (SJC) ruling, which asserted that evidence of a victim’s violent past is admissible in court.
Quinlan had rejected attempts by the defense to introduce Colono’s criminal history during trial. She first reconvened the parties in April to discuss reopening the high-profile case. After a final discussion with counsel last Wednesday, Quinlan is currently deciding whether Pring-Wilson is entitled to a new trial.
A smiling Pring-Wilson, donning ankle shackles with his pressed suit, strolled into court to hear lawyers squabble over his fate last week.
Assistant District Attorney Adrienne Lynch argued before the court that the SJC ruling was meant to go into effect “prospectively”—and not retroactively.
Because of this, she argued, the SJC ruling, which was handed down five months before the verdict, does not apply to the Pring-Wilson case.
Lynch also argued that Colono’s run-ins with the law were not crimes against people.
“He has a criminal history,” Lynch said in hearing last May. “But he doesn’t have a history of violence.”
Colono was found guilty in 2002 of possessing crack cocaine with intent to distribute. His cousin, Samuel E. Rodriguez, who partook in the scuffle the night Colono died, has several assault and battery charges to his name. The defense also points to an event, documented in a police report, in which Colono allegedly threw money in a cashier’s face, kicked a door, and shattered glass at a local restaurant.
Defense attorney Charles Rankin argued in court on Wednesday that background information about Colono’s past might have changed jurors’ opinions about who started the fight that night.
But former jury forewoman Carol D. Neville said, contrary to the defense’s claims, that even she’d heard of the 18-year-old’s criminal indiscretions, she still would not have been convinced to side with the defense.
“It wouldn’t have swayed my judgment, or others’ [on the jury], because he was not armed at the time and we looked at the incident when it occurred,” she said. “Even if he had a background or a history, it wouldn’t have changed that night.”
MIT professor Ceasar L. McDowell, who also sat on the jury, said they already knew of Colono’s sullied past—which included growing up in poverty and becoming a father at 15.
“People on the jury weren’t fooled,” he said. “They didn’t think Michael and his cousin were without problems.”
But Pring-Wilson’s ex-girlfriend, Jennifer Hansen, said the defendant was overcharged to begin with.
“I’m hopeful that there will be an opportunity for a full trial,” Hansen, a student at the UCLA School of Law, told the Crimson. “I think it was irresponsible of the District Attorney to present an incomplete story, and the people of Cambridge should be outraged.”