Monday, August 8, 2011

The Ultimate Town Vs. Gown Murder Case

In April 2003, Alexander Pring-Wilson was a 25-year old graduate student at Harvard in Russian studies. Originally from Colorado, Mr. Pring-Wilson - like, he claims, his sisters - always carried a penknife with him, should any sort of need for this tool suddenly arise. That sounds like a cowboyish bit of practicality on one level, considering where he was from, but it landed the poor bastard in a world of hurt. One evening, after about "7 to 10 drinks" at a number of bars in the Davis Square section of Somerville, Mass. - including The Burren and the Rosebud Diner (which I visited once in my own student days) - Pring-Wilson started home. Walking, by all accounts, unsteadily. As a matter of fact, he was walking so unsteadily that a couple of townies began to make fun of him from a parked car. As Pring-Wilson admitted, he countered their taunts with a few rude remarks of his own. The townies got out of the car and a fight ensued. Pring-Wilson claimed that the townies were beating him about the head. Fearing for his life, or just acting out of instinct, he pulled out his penknife and stabbed one of the townies - an 18-year old named Michael Colono - "five times in the chest and abdomen during the fight, which lasted just 70 seconds." Colono, whose heart was pierced by a near-random thrust, died on the scene.

Michael Colono was no angel. It turned out he had a criminal record - and a temper. His previous exploits included "a 2001 episode in which he threw money in the face of a cashier at a pizza restaurant, then kicked in the front door and shattered the glass." Curiously, he was waiting outside another pizza restaurant with a friend, Samuel Rodriguez, when they accosted Pring-Wilson. The guy seemed to have had a thing about pizza.

What could have been a clear-cut case of self-defense fell by the wayside when Pring-Wilson lied to the authorities, despite making the 911 call to bring them to the scene after the stabbing. "He initially told police he was a bystander at a fight during which a young man was stabbed. He later told a fire captain who responded to the 911 call that he had intervened in a fight between two other men because he had a pen knife with him." These falsehoods paved the way for Colono's buddy, Samuel Rodriguez, to introduce his own dubious claim - that Pring-Wilson started the whole thing by pulling open their car door as soon as he was accosted and starting the fight right then and there.

When Pring-Wilson went to the trial, Rodriguez's testimony bore the most weight, and Pring-Wilson was found guilty of voluntary manslaughter. Colono's criminal history was not introduced. This conviction was later overturned, and Pring-Wilson was retried, but that trial ended in a hung jury. In a third trial, Pring-Wilson entered a guilty plea to a charge of involuntary manslaughter and was sentenced to two years. His troubles did not end there. As of June 2011, he was awaiting the results of a wrongful death suit filed against him to the tune of $260,000.

My own personal opinion is that Pring-Wilson should not have been so drunk in the first place - but, once drunk and under assault by a couple of probably very tough teenagers, his response was understandable. The prosecutors most likely played on townie hostility to the Boston area's ubiquitous college students - particularly Harvard students, and most especially WASP male Harvard students. The first trial shamelessly demonized Pring-Wilson to the extent that the FBI was seriously "liking" him, as they say, for a number of serial murders perpetrated in his native Colorado.

The moral of the story is this - don't mess with the townies, especially if your demographic profile puts you at a disadvantage in that vicinity. I.e., don't mess with the townies in Redneck-ville if you happen to be black. Conversely, don't mess with the townies in a politically correct college town if you're a privileged Anglo. Ironically, the PC ethos of liberal Harvard had so pervaded the mindset of the regular folks of Cambridge, Mass. that a Harvard boy had no chance. Talk about being hoisted on your petard.

Ex-grad student gets 2 years for killing (USA Today)
Pring-Wilson Takes the Stand (Harvard Crimson)
Alexander Pring-Wilson: The Last Trial? (The Freedom Bulletin)

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