COLUMBIA — Disappointed with the guilty verdicts handed down Friday in Kristopher Prince’s murder trial, Prince’s defense team plans to file a motion for retrial.
Michael Byrne, one of Prince’s attorneys from the public defender’s office, said after the trial that though he respects the Boone County jury’s decision, he also disagrees with it.
Kristopher Prince was found guilty of all charges and sentenced to a combined 50 years in prison Friday as the murder trial stemming from the 2007 shooting death of a Columbia teen came to a close.
A Boone County jury recommended 30 years for Prince's second-degree murder conviction in the death of 17-year-old Tedarrian Robinson, 15 years for unlawful use of a weapon and five years for armed criminal action. Prince, 19, now awaits final approval of the sentence from Boone County Circuit Judge Kevin Crane.
After the trial, Crane explained to the court that he could either confirm the jury's recommendation or propose a lesser sentence.
The sentencing range the jury had to consider for felony murder was 10 years to life; for unlawful use of a weapon it was 15 years; and for armed criminal action it was three years to life.
The four-day trial centered on the events of the afternoon of April 18, 2007, when Robinson was shot and killed in a high-speed car chase near the intersection of Grindstone Parkway and Bearfield Road. Prince was riding in the passenger seat of a car driven by his now 22-year-old cousin, Lorenzo Ladiner, and fired four to six shots from an SKS assault rifle at the car in which Robinson was a passenger.
One of the bullets traveled through the car's trunk, back seat and head rest before striking Robinson in the left side of his neck and then severing his aorta. Robinson was pronounced dead later that afternoon at University Hospital.
The jury of 10 women and two men deliberated for about two-and-a-half hours before delivering the guilty verdict at 4 p.m. Friday. Several jury members broke down in tears after Crane read the verdict.
The courtroom, which was packed with Prince's family and friends for much of the trial, exploded after the jury's decision was read. A number of Prince supporters stormed out of the courtroom and several others yelled out or cried to themselves.
Prince, who did not testify in the trial, remained silent after the verdict was read, simply dropping his head to his chest. His mother, Dietra Prince, began sobbing inconsolably and had to be helped out of the courtroom.
Once the verdict was read, the trial immediately moved on to the penalty phase, during which the prosecution and defense recommended to the jury how they thought Prince should be sentenced.
In his closing arguments during the sentencing phase Friday night, Boone County Prosecuting Attorney Dan Knight portrayed Prince as a "career criminal" and an "extremely dangerous person." He called a number of Columbia police officers to the stand to testify to Prince's history of violent and dangerous acts.
Saying Prince had a number of second chances in the past, Knight asked the jury to sentence Prince to at least 20 years for the murder charge alone.
Defense attorney Byrne acknowledged Prince made a number of mistakes as a young, impressionable teen, but asked the jury to recommend the minimum sentence on each charge. He said Prince never intended to kill Robinson on the day of the murder.
Dietra Prince was the final witness to testify in the sentencing portion of the trial. Fighting back tears, she addressed the jury: "I am begging you to show mercy to my son," she said. "Don't send my baby away for life. I am sorry for what happened."
Shortly after her testimony, Dietra Prince left the courtroom and embraced Cherry Robinson, the victim's mother. Cherry Robinson has attended every day of the trial and said in an interview following Friday's verdict that she was pleased with the decision, though she knows it's not over yet.
"My son's life was taken and I will no longer see him," she said. "I would like this to be a lesson to Columbia youth."
The defense argued throughout the trial that Ladiner was the shooter and Prince was the driver on the day of the murder. They presented evidence that Ladiner had an ongoing feud with the driver of the second car, Larry McBride, and therefore had motivation to pull the trigger.
Only one day before the shooting, Ladiner had driven to McBride's residence and shot the same assault rifle used in the murder at his cars and home, evidence in the trial showed.
Defense attorney Byrne also said Ladiner had a strong incentive to lie to the jury because of a deal he made with the prosecution in exchange for his testimony against Prince. Ladiner pleaded guilty following the shooting to acting in concert to felony murder and unlawful use of weapon for shooting at McBride's residence.
In exchange for his testimony, Ladiner will likely get reduced sentences on both charges: 20 years for the accessory murder charge and 15 years for the shooting, to be served concurrently, Byrne said.
However, the jury clearly found the evidence linking Prince to the shooting to be stronger. Several witnesses called to testify during the trial identified Prince as the shooter, including Ladiner and Carlos Dudley, a passenger in the victim's car. On a recording of a 911 call Dudley made following the shooting, Dudley can be heard saying "a dude named Kris" was the shooter.
Later in the trial, a criminalist with the Missouri State Highway Patrol testified that Prince had a significant amount of gun-shot residue on his hands after the shooting. Although the criminalist, Nicholas Gerhardt, could not definitively say that Prince was the shooter, he told the jury that tests found much more residue on the hands of Prince than on Ladiner.