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Witnesses provide defense for suspected SJU shooter

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Two defense witnesses in the trial of Christopher Prince, who is accused of shooting and paralyzing a St. John’s University football player last year, told jurors Tuesday that the defendant was at home at the time of the altercation.

Michelle Prince, the defendant’s sister, and Anita Mercado, his girlfriend and the mother of his two children, said Prince was with them at his Elmont, L.I. home on the night of March 11, 2001 when athlete Cory Mitchell was shot in the spine and partially paralyzed on the St. John’s campus.

Prince, 23, is charged with three counts of attempted murder in the shooting of Mitchell and several counts of assault. Another young man also was shot in the incident.

He could face up to 25 years in prison if convicted.

His trial began last month in State Supreme Court in Long Island City.

Assistant District Attorney Laurie Neustadt tried to discredit their testimony, implying that the close relationship between the two young women and Prince affected their honesty. She also wondered why neither woman informed defense attorney Oliver Smith that Prince was with them on the night of the shooting until about four months after his arrest.

Still, Prince’s sister, in continuing her testimony from last week, said she saw Prince at their home that night. Last week she said, “I don’t think my brother would do something like that.” On Monday, she said “he was shocked and I was shocked” that there was a shooting and Prince was arrested for it.

When Neustadt asked why she waited until July 2001 to inform the police, district attorney and defense attorneys that Prince was at home at the time of the shooting, Michelle Prince, 19, said her mother instructed her not to discuss the case with anyone.

Prince’s sister broke into tears during Neustadt’s cross examination and seemed confused at times. When Neustadt angrily asked, “Isn’t it in your interest to say that your brother was at home at 2:30” a.m. March 11, Michelle Prince answered “yes.”

Mercado, who was nine months pregnant at the time of the shooting, said she, Prince, and their first child slept at Prince’s house the night of the shooting. She gave a detailed description of when they went to sleep, saying that she woke up twice during the night and saw Prince still in bed with her.

Neustadt also attacked her credibility and questioned why Mercado also did not inform the defense attorney that Prince was with her at the time of the shooting until July. Like Michelle Prince, Mercado said Prince’s mother told her not to talk about the case.

The prosecutor also made clear to jurors that Mercado depends on Prince financially and for the care of their two children. Mercado responded affirmatively when the ADA asked her if she would lose financial support in the event Prince was convicted.

According to previous testimony, the shooting stemmed from an altercation in a bar on Hillside Avenue near St. John’s that was carried back to the campus. Mitchell and his football teammate, Durron Newman, were working as bouncers at the bar Traditions in Jamaica when Newman knocked into a friend of Prince’s, according to Newman’s earlier testimony.

Mitchell and his friends traded glares with Prince’s group at the bar over the bump, according to earlier testimony. After the bar closed, Prince’s group allegedly followed Mitchell’s group back to a university parking lot where words were exchanged and Prince is said to have opened fire into a crowd.

Rashon Fray, who was not a student at the university, was hit in the leg, and Mitchell, 23, was hit in the back. Last week Mitchell testified that Prince was the shooter.

Reach reporter Brendan Browne by e-mail at TimesLedger@aol.com or by phone at 229-0300, Ext. 155.

Posted 7:06 pm, October 10, 2011
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