IMAGE: PRING-WILSON
Ted Fitzgerald  /  Pool via AP file
Alexander Pring-Wilson gestures during testimony Tuesday as he describes the street fight that resulted in the death of 18-year-old Michael Colono.
updated 10/14/2004 1:48:06 PM ET 2004-10-14T17:48:06

A Harvard University graduate student was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to six to eight years in prison Thursday for stabbing a teenage father to death with a knife that he said he wielded in self-defense during a fight.

Prosecutors had sought a first-degree murder conviction for Alexander Pring-Wilson, arguing he became enraged when Michael Colono ridiculed him for being drunk. The defense argued that Colono and his cousin were brutally beating Pring-Wilson when he lashed out with a knife and inflicted the deadly wounds.

Judge Regina Quinlan could have given a sentence ranging from probation to 20 years in prison.

As Pring-Wilson was led from the courtroom after the verdict, his girlfriend and mother sobbed in the front row. Colono’s mother, Ada, broke down in tears outside court and was comforted by her family.

Pring-Wilson’s mother, Cynthia Pring, said she understood the Colono family’s pain. “I feel for them so strongly,” she said. “My son feels for them so strongly.”

A collision of two worlds
The case represented a collision of two worlds. Pring-Wilson, the privileged son of Colorado lawyers, was studying at Harvard for his master’s degree in Russian and Eurasian studies and planning to attend law school. Colono, an 18-year-old high school dropout, had earned his GED and was working as a cook at a Boston hotel. He died the day before his daughter’s third birthday.

Defense lawyer Ann Kaufman, in tears as she asked the judge to sentence Pring-Wilson to probation, said her client had been unfairly portrayed as a product of an elite upbringing.

“He’s worked all of his life. He comes from a family where all the children in the family worked,” said Kaufman. “This isn’t about race, or class or privilege or wealth. ... What it’s about is what happened on that street between three people.”

Colono’s family eulogized him during statements that preceded the sentencing.

“He was funny, outgoing, smart and very handsome,” said his sister, Wanda Rivera. “He brought laughter and happiness into our lives. He was never resentful. He always looked for the good in people. He was totally in love with fatherhood.”

On April 12, 2003, Pring-Wilson was walking home after a night out with friends. Colono, his cousin and his cousin’s girlfriend were waiting for a pizza outside a restaurant.

Two accounts, one killing
Witnesses said Colono made fun of Pring-Wilson because he was drunk and stumbling. Prosecutors said the Harvard student then went berserk, beating Colono before he pulled out his folding knife and repeatedly plunged it into Colono’s chest and abdomen.

“Michael Colono made fun of the defendant and it cost him his life,” Assistant District Attorney Adrienne Lynch said.

But Pring-Wilson testified he was defending himself. In the courtroom, he re-enacted the fight, dropping to one knee to show how he cowered on the sidewalk beneath a succession of blows from Colono and his cousin.

“I was thinking, what’s going to stop these guys? ... Are these guys going to know to stop when I’m dead?” he testified.

Only then, he said, did he pull out the 4-inch folding knife and begin waving it around over his head in hopes of getting them to stop. The entire fight lasted just 70 seconds.

Prosecutors pursued a first-degree murder charge against Pring-Wilson, saying the stabbing was deliberately premeditated and constituted extreme atrocity and cruelty. One of those conditions must be met to convict for first-degree murder, which carries a mandatory sentence of life in prison without parole.

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