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Defense: Accused not near SJU shooting S

A lawyer for Christopher Prince, accused of shooting and paralyzing a St. John’s football star, told jurors in closing arguments Tuesday he was at home in Long Island during the attack, but the prosecutor contended he fired five shots in the March 11, 2001 incident.

Defense attorney Oliver Smith said Prince was at his Elmont, L.I. home early in the morning when Cory Mitchell, a former linebacker, was shot on the university campus. He also told jurors that Prince had no motive to shoot the student-athlete.

Assistant District Attorney Laurie Neustadt countered by emphasizing the testimony of six witnesses who pointed to Prince, 23, as the shooter and called the evidence “overwhelming.”

Following closing statements, jurors began deliberations late in the afternoon and were sequestered overnight in a hotel with deliberations scheduled to continue Wednesday morning.

If convicted on all criminal charges, which include three counts of attempted murder and several counts of assault, Prince could face up to 25 years in prison.

Prince allegedly shot Mitchell, 23, in the spine and Rashon Fray in the leg after an altercation in a Jamaica bar was carried back to the St. John’s campus.

As a result of the shooting, Mitchell, who testified from his wheelchair against Prince at the trial, was paralyzed from the waist down. Fray like Prince was not a St. John’s student. He suffered minor injuries.

In State Supreme Court in Long Island City, Smith reminded jurors that Prince’s girlfriend and sister had testified that they were with him at home at the time of the shooting.

Smith attacked what he called weaknesses in the testimonies of the prosecution witnesses, saying only two people placed Prince at Traditions, the Hillside Avenue bar where the melee began. He also argued that witnesses’ accounts of the words the shooter used prior to firing differed.

“Inconsistencies, inconsistencies, inconsistencies,” Smith yelled repeatedly, referring to the testimony of the prosecution’s witnesses.

Saying Prince had no motive to shoot anyone on the St. John’s campus, he implied that Eric Mateo, a former friend of Prince, was a more likely suspect. He recalled the testimony of a defense witness and friend of Prince who said he saw Mateo carrying a gun the night of the shooting.

Smith said Mateo, who testified against Prince in the case, was “bent on” resolving a year-old feud he is said to have had with some university football players. Prince’s lawyer also argued that the police investigation was incomplete, telling jurors that none of the witnesses described the shooter to officers.

The assistant district attorney attacked Smith’s argument by asserting that five witnesses went to a police lineup the day after the shooting and picked out Prince. She also made the point that although there might have been minor discrepancies in witness accounts, they all had a good look at the shooter before he fired.

“Let’s look at these six identifications. Let’s look at the facts ... There’s no reason to believe any of these identifications could be mistaken,” Neustadt said.

The prosecutor said Mateo’s testimony closed the case since he was among Prince’s friends. Mateo had testified that after the shooting Prince said, “I think I caught a body. I got kids. I can’t go to jail.”

Neustadt also doubted the accounts of the defendant’s sister, Michelle Prince, and his girlfriend, Anita Mercado, who is the mother of his two children. The prosecutor told jurors that the two women’s close relationship with Prince brought their honesty into question.

Prince “fired and Cory Mitchell will never walk again. There is no doubt about what he intended to do. He intended to kill,” Neustadt said.

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

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