CAMBRIDGE - The chance encounter on a Cambridge street lasted less than 70 seconds, leaving an 18-year-old hotel cook dead and a Harvard graduate student charged with murder.
In Alexander Pring-Wilson's first trial, the jury convicted him of manslaughter, finding the student was the aggressor who stabbed Michael Colono to death after Colono made fun of him.
But three years later, Pring-Wilson will go on trial again beginning today, and his lawyers will be allowed to tell a different jury about violent episodes from Colono's past.
A ruling from the state Supreme Judicial Court paved the way for Pring-Wilson to get a second chance to try to persuade a jury that he killed Colono in self-defense on April 12, 2003.
Under the ruling, issued five months after Pring-Wilson's conviction, juries may consider a victim's violent history if it sheds light on a self-defense claim. The jury in the first trial was not allowed to hear about violence in Colono's past.
In Pring-Wilson's retrial in Middlesex Superior Court, his lawyers will be allowed to tell jurors about a 2001 incident in which Colono threw money in the face of a cashier at a pizza restaurant, then kicked in the front door.
The defense may also be allowed to tell jurors about another arrest that year, when Colono allegedly physically and verbally assaulted two passengers on a subway train and spit on police officers.
At the first trial, Colono's cousin, Samuel Rodriguez, and his girlfriend testified that Pring-Wilson stabbed Colono after he ridiculed him for walking drunkenly along a street. Rodriguez said he jumped in to defend his cousin after he saw Pring-Wilson getting the better of Colono in the fight.
Colono was a cook and father. Pring-Wilson, of Colorado Springs, Colo., was studying for his master's in Russian and Eurasian studies. Pring-Wilson said Colono and Rodriguez both pounded him relentlessly, and that he pulled out his folding knife because he feared they would kill him.
Pring-Wilson's attorney declined to comment before the trial. But attorneys who are not involved in the case say the information about violent incidents involving Colono and Rodriguez could bolster Pring-Wilson's self-defense claim.
Jurors in Pring-Wilson's first trial heard some evidence about the criminal records of both Colono and Rodriguez, but they were given few details.
This time, jurors will be told that Rodriguez repeatedly beat his former girlfriend and that he hit his sister in the eye with a plastic baby cup, then swung a knife at his brother-in-law and broke the windows of his car.
Middlesex District Attorney Gerard Leone declined to comment before the trial. But in April, Leone said prosecutors have strong evidence against Pring-Wilson.