I covered my first court case today, a day in the retrial of Christopher Prince, 23, of Elmont, New York. Barely older than me, this man is accused of shooting into a crowd of St. Johns University students on the night of March 11, 2001 after a confrontation between them and a smaller group, including some of his friends. The shooting wounded today's main witness, Reshawn Fray, in the leg. He was a 17-year old visiting the campus and his cousin who was a student there, now he's a senior there himself. It made a paraplegic of Corey Mitchell, who had been a star linebacker for the school. Both of them positively identified Prince as the shooter in the last trial. In the last trial a guy named Stanley Heriveaux had testified that he was at the shooting (something confirmed by the records kept by a campus guard box) but that Prince wasn't there and that he had never met Prince; since last year's hung jury he has pled guilty to perjury and is expected to testify that he in fact drove Prince to and from the scene of the crime but lied under oath under at Prince's insistence. The bulk of the defense's argument is still supposed to be a case of mistaken identity, but I don't know of any other expected substantial rebuttals to the prosecution's 8 eyewitnesses. At least one of them, Prince's former friend Eric Mateo, could be considered a suspect himself, and therefore dubious. Apparently the prosecution's previous argument had been that the eyewitnesses were confused between Mateo and Prince, particularly because both men had had long braids on the night of the shooting, but Mateo cut his the next morning.
The gun was never recovered nor tied to Prince, who had an armed robbery and criminal posession of a gun on his juvenile record. The motive mystifies me regardless of who the shooter is. Apparently there was some kind of shoving incident earlier in the evening at Traditions, a local bar where Mitchell and his friends worked as bouncers. They calmed the parties down, but Mateo's group felt offended and found Mitchell and his friends on the University campus later, allegedly looking for a fight. Fray's description of the confrontation seems rather bizarre and mundane, though also fairly self-consistent and consistent with that of the other witness we saw. He said somebody (presumably Mateo, though he wasn't asked to make that identification during the trial) told him and his cousins and their fellow students "I'll fight anyone who wants to fight me," several times in a loud but still normal tone of voice. After Mateo stopped that, Fray claims Prince said something like, "This shit is case," and some kind of similar comments before pulling out a gun. Seeing Prince sit expressionlessly and calmly, it was hard to imagine him doing such a bizarre thing. But he's also been indicted for shooting the father of his girlfriend's baby, a man named Orville Mongol, in a separate trial. Motives and means are apparently not issues though, according to both sides.
The judge was unexpectedly helpful in explaining the workings of the court to us, though he was ethically forbidden from giving us his opinions on the case. His daughter went to Columbia J-school and he seemed to be in favor of Bollinger and Lemann's plan to increase the length of the program to two years, citing our obvious oblviousness of New York criminal law.
When I got back Columbia was teeming with crowds, big dark SUVs, police cars and Men in Black: Putin and Karzai were on campus. Sitting in the 6th floor computer lab some of us noticed snipers on the rooftop across. We climbed onto the wide windowsill to watch Putin emerge from Lowe Library with giant flanks of body guards, to enormous applause from the gathered crowd. There was some kind of weird photo op involving Little League players, and then he stalked off and we went back to writing about a little Queens trial.