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Victim's jacket is focus of Ivy League case

By Lisa Sweetingham
Court TV


CAMBRIDGE, Massachusetts (Court TV) -- A leather jacket worn by a teen who was stabbed to death by a Harvard grad student did not appear to have any cuts or blood marks on it until it was given a secondary examination, forensic chemists testified Wednesday.

Prosecutors have pointed to the cut marks  now present on the black jacket worn by 18-year-old Michael Colono  as evidence of the force that Alexander Pring-Wilson used when he stabbed the teen five times on April 12, 2003.

The defense claims Pring-Wilson acted in self-defense and that the cut marks showed up only after members of the victim's family took custody of the jacket.

"You were looking for stabbing marks?" defense attorney Rick Levinson asked state police crime lab chemist John Soares.

"Yes, or biological fluids," Soares said.

"And you saw neither?" Levinson asked.

"No, I did not," the chemist said.

"And you put it back in the car because it was of no evidentiary value to you?" Levinson asked.

"That's correct," Soares said.

Soares testified that, while he thought he did a thorough examination of the jacket, the underground parking garage he was working in had poor lighting.

His crime lab colleague, forensic chemist Eugene Hagan, testified later Tuesday that he subsequently examined the jacket and noted four cut marks and blood on the garment. Hagan's observations appeared to correspond to several of the wounds on Colono's body.

Hagan said he examined the holes through a microscope and determined that the edges were not frayed, indicating they were made by clean cuts and not from a tearing motion.

Still, the defense was able to establish that the chain of custody had been broken, and the contradictory findings may have stirred jurors' doubts about the credibility of previous witnesses  friends and family of the victim  who characterized Pring-Wilson as the aggressor that evening.

Colono's cousin, Samuel Rodriguez, and Giselle Abreu, Rodriguez's girlfriend, testified that they were sitting in a white Chevy outside a pizzeria at about 1:45 a.m. They told jurors they laughed at the defendant as he walked by because he appeared drunk.

Rodriguez and Abreu said Pring-Wilson walked back to the car, challenged Colono to a fight, opened his door and stabbed the unarmed man in the street.

In the hours after the stabbing, Rodriguez, Abreu and Pring-Wilson all lied to police about their role in the incident; the defendant claimed he was an innocent bystander and the witnesses said they were not present when Colono was stabbed.

Rodriguez's sister-in-law returned the jacket to police after Soares failed to notice the presence of damage or blood.

Trails of blood

Though the marks on the jacket may have been in doubt, the stab marks found on Colono's other items of clothing were clear and present at the time of his death.

Continuing his testimony from Tuesday, Soares identified several cut marks and significant bloodstains found on four layers of clothing  a blue "Carolina" jersey, a black hooded sweatshirt, a black "Celtics" T-shirt and a white long-sleeved T-shirt  that assistant prosecutor Adrienne Lynch had mounted on white poster boards and displayed for jurors.

Soares also testified that the exact length of the defendant's Spyderco blade was four inches, not three inches, as has been widely reported, and that the maximum width of the blade was 1-1/4 inches.

Upon testing Pring-Wilson's clothing, Soares found bloodstains on the left sleeve of his blue oxford shirt, near the cuff.

Soares also found seven spots of blood on his jeans, including one inside the right front pocket, a stain on the top of his right sandal, and stains on the back and front of the right shoulder of his yellow Gap rain jacket.

Both forensic chemists conceded during cross-examination that there were dark-colored dirt stains on the back of Pring-Wilson's raincoat that were not tested, but neither would give an opinion about whether the stains were consistent with the defendant falling backward onto dirt during a struggle.

Hagan and Soares also executed a search warrant at the defendant's apartment. Hagan stated that he found the Spyderco knife in Pring-Wilson's bedroom, under a pile of blankets and backpacks in a storage area that's been called a "crawl space" by the state and a "closet" by the defense.

The state says that Pring-Wilson hid the knife there. The defense contends it was haphazardly tossed on the floor when Pring-Wilson undressed on the night of the incident.

The chemists stated that the knife was uncovered, examined and then briefly returned to the space to be photo-documented before collecting it as evidence. But the alleged pile of blankets were not present in the photos jurors viewed, making it difficult for them to determine whether the knife was secreted away or left in plain sight.

Lethal wound

Jurors also heard from medical examiner Faryl Sander, who returned to the stand to resume her testimony from Friday.

Faryl testified during cross-examination last week that a single stab to the victim's right ventricle  which she identified as "wound A"  was the fatal thrust.

"Taking all the other wounds into account, aside from stab wound A," Sander said during cross-examination Wednesday morning, "if medical treatment had been obtained, yes, it most likely would not have been fatal."

Abreu and Rodriguez testified that, when the trio drove off after the fight, no one realized at first that Colono had been stabbed.

Precious minutes were lost as they desperately tried to find a hospital, eventually stopping near a 7-Eleven, where a police cruiser came to their aid and dispatched an ambulance.

Colono succumbed to his wounds at 3:15 a.m. at a hospital in Boston.

Alexander Pring-Wilson faces life in prison if convicted of first-degree murder. The state expects to rest its case on Thursday.

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