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Harvard Trial: He Said, They Said

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One was a struggling teenage father who worked as a cook. The other was a Harvard graduate student fluent in five languages. Their paths crossed just once, when the teen stopped for a pizza and the Harvard student walked by his car.

Hours later, the teenager was dead and the Harvard student was charged in his killing. Their disparate worlds were to again come together Monday in a Cambridge courtroom when jury selection begins in the trial of Alexander Pring-Wilson, 26, charged with the death of Michael Colono, 18.

The killing seemed to worsen long-simmering tensions between working-class residents of Cambridge and students at the acclaimed Ivy League school. Media coverage focused on the "town-versus-gown" conflict.

Colono's family believes Pring-Wilson's lawyers have emphasized the ethnic and economic differences between the two families to try to make Michael Colono look like the attacker.

"The defense wants to try to use Michael's background and try to compare it to Pring-Wilson, and say, 'Hey, look at the differences. Look who's guilty and who's not,"' said Marcos Colono, Michael's brother.

Pring-Wilson's lawyers said local media played up class differences in a way that was unfair to their client. They tried unsuccessfully to move the trial to another city.

Boston attorney Jeffrey Denner, Pring-Wilson's lawyer at the time of his arrest, called his client a "gentleman" with a spotless record. "Alexander defended himself. He did not instigate this. He did not pursue it," Denner said at that time.

In the early hours of Saturday, April 12, 2003, Pring-Wilson was at a nightclub dancing with friends to a reggae band, according to statements he gave police. After his friends went home, Pring-Wilson started to walk to his apartment.

He originally told police he witnessed a fight between two men and tried to intervene. He later said he was attacked by at least two men, and he pulled out his pocketknife to defend himself.

Colono's cousin, Samuel Rodriguez, and Rodriguez's girlfriend, Giselle Abreu, told police they were sitting in their car at about 1:45 a.m., waiting for a pizza when they saw Pring-Wilson walking down the street.

Rodriguez and Abreu said Colono made a comment about Pring-Wilson "staggering." They said Pring-Wilson apparently overheard, turned and exchanged words with Colono.

Pring-Wilson opened the door to the back seat where Colono was sitting, Rodriguez said. Colono jumped out of the car and fought with Pring-Wilson. Rodriguez told police he got out of the car to help his cousin, and punched Pring-Wilson once in the head, to no effect. He said he pulled Pring-Wilson's jacket, which brought him to his knees.

Colono yelled that Pring-Wilson had a knife, Rodriguez said, and the two cousins got in the car. Colono then started having trouble breathing, and realized he had been stabbed. He had five wounds, four to his chest and abdomen and one to his left arm. He later died.

Prosecutors would not discuss the case before trial. Denner no longer represents Pring-Wilson and declined further comment. Pring-Wilson's new attorneys did not return telephone calls seeking comment.

Pring-Wilson is the son of two Colorado attorneys: Cynthia Pring, a former deputy district attorney in Colorado Springs, and Ross Wilson, a prominent defense attorney.

An honors graduate of Colorado College, he was studying for his master's degree in Russian and Eurasian Studies, and planning to go on to law school. He took a leave of absence from Harvard after his arrest.

Michael Colono was a high school dropout who earned his GED and was working as a cook at a Boston hotel. He had a minor criminal record as a juvenile, including a conviction for drug possession and an arrest for trespassing. Colono died the day before the third birthday of his daughter.

Colono's family has been working on a Web site dedicated to his life, Marcos Colono said. "Michael had a non-violent nature," he said. "He never had a history of trying to attack anyone or hurt anyone. We want people to know that."

By Denise Lavoie