COLUMBIA - Attorneys offered two distinct explanations of who is responsible for the 2007 shooting death of a Columbia teen in opening statements made Wednesday at the murder trial of Kristopher Prince.
Prince, now 19, is on trial in Boone County Circuit Court, charged with second-degree murder, unlawful use of a weapon and armed criminal action in the April 2007 death of 17-year-old Tedarrian Robinson.
The prosecution, led by Boone County Prosecuting Attorney Dan Knight, alleged that Prince fired a semi-automatic assault rifle at a car in which Robinson was a passenger. The car was driven by his cousin, Lorenzo Ladiner, now 22, Knight said.
But Prince's defense team, led by public defender Michael Byrne, argued in front of the Boone County jury that Ladiner was actually the shooter, and Prince was the driver that day.
One of the first witnesses called by the prosecution was Carlos Dudley, 22, who was in the car with Robinson, his cousin, when Robinson was shot.
Dudley identified Prince as the shooter during a 911 call following the incident, as well as in subsequent interviews with police. On a recording of the 911 call played for the jury, Dudley can be heard saying there was an "accident," and that "a dude named Kris" was the shooter.
Dudley testified Wednesday that just before Robinson was shot, he saw Prince leaning his upper body out of a car window and pointing a rifle at his car.
On cross-examination, however, Byrne noted a number of inconsistencies between Dudley's testimony and what he had previously said to police and attorneys. For example, on the day of the shooting Dudley told a Columbia police detective the two cars were side-by-side at one point, but in his testimony Wednesday he said that had never happened. Dudley said either there was a mistake or he had been misunderstood.
There are several facts of the case both sides do agree on, many of which were presented to the jury during testimony from a number of Columbia police officers.
Shortly before 3 p.m. on Aug. 18, 2007, shots were fired near the intersection of Bearfield Road and Grindstone Parkway at a vehicle driven by Larry McBride and carrying Dudley and Robinson. One of the bullets traveled through the car's trunk, back seat and headrest before striking Robinson in the back of the head. Robinson was later pronounced dead at University Hospital.
McBride's car was pulled over for driving erratically near Providence Road and East Rollins Street by an off-duty police officer following the shooting. No weapons were found in a search of the vehicle and its occupants, but police did find almost 11 grams of crack cocaine in McBride's underwear. McBride, a known drug dealer, was later charged for drug possession and for driving with a suspended or revoked license.
In his opening statement, Knight told the jury Robinson's death was the result of an ongoing feud between Prince and Ladiner on one side and McBride on the other. The two groups had a history of conflict, Knight said, and it had escalated in the days leading up to the shooting.
Prince was in jail until only an hour and a half before the shooting. He was incarcerated April 12 for a traffic offense. Knight alleged that in calls to Ladiner from jail, Prince said he was going to "ice," or kill, McBride. For his part, Ladiner went to McBride's residence in the early morning of April 18 and shot at McBride's home and cars, Knight said.
Knight said McBride confronted Prince and Ladiner later that day about the shooting at his house , provoking the car chase and shooting.
The murder weapon, an SKS assault rifle, was found at Ladiner's residence following the shooting. Gunshot residue tests showed that Prince had a high amount of particles consistent with gun powder on his hands, Knight said.
The defense argued it was actually Ladiner who killed Robinson. "All evidence points to Lorenzo Ladiner being the shooter," Byrne said. Ladiner had become "obsessed" with McBride after he lost to him in a fight, Byrne said. And Ladiner was the one who purchased the rifle and used it to fire at McBride's house and cars, he said.
Byrne also said Ladiner has a strong incentive to lie to the jury because of a deal he has made with the prosecution in exchange for his testimony against Prince. Ladiner pleaded guilty following the incident to second-degree murder and to a charge relating to the shooting at McBride's residence. In exchange for his testimony, Ladiner would get reduced sentences on both charges: 20 years for the murder and 15 years for the shooting, running concurrently, Byrne said.
The trial will continue at 8:30 a.m. Thursday and is expected to last until Friday or Saturday.