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Robbery plot testimony allowed in Colorado Springs drug feud slaying trial

December 1, 2017 Updated: December 1, 2017 at 3:23 pm
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Crime scene photo by Ellie Mulder, The Gazette.

Testimony about an alleged robbery plot could complicate an ex-soldier's self-defense claim at an upcoming murder trial.

A judge Friday shot down a defense request to exclude evidence that William Prine, 23, was involved in a plan to rob Manuel L. Vigil days before an escalating drug feud ended with Vigil's death outside Prine's Stetson Hills home. A second man, Theran Hopke, was severely wounded in the Feb. 6 shooting in the 6300 block of La Plata Drive.

Prine's attorneys argue he fired in self-defense after the men pulled up in a pickup and Vigil got out with a pistol in one hand and a brick in the other. Investigators say Vigil had spent hours making death threats against the men via text message, but prosecutors say Prine wasn't justified in opening fire with an AR-15 rifle from a second-floor window.

Jurors who must evaluate the "reasonableness" of Prine's actions should be made aware that he allegedly conspired with a roommate, Matthew Houston, in a bid to rob Vigil three days earlier, lead prosecutor Kelson Castain argued at Friday's hearing.

The plot to lure Vigil to Cottonwood Park and get money or pot from him by force if necessary came after the men say Vigil had bilked them on an earlier marijuana deal, taking several thousand dollars but shorting them on pot in a container weighed down with a rock. The men were under pressure to settle up with out-of-state buyers from Louisiana who lost out in the transaction, Castain said.

Castain said text messages between Houston and Prine proved the defendant was aware of the plan, though his attorneys argued that Houston alone was involved.

Fourth Judicial District Judge Deborah Grohs sided with the prosecution in ruling that evidence about the earlier robbery attempt is relevant to the shooting and therefore admissible.

The judge also found that the defense may present evidence that Vigil was involved in gang activity to support Prine's claims that Vigil shouted "Sureños" after getting out of the pickup.

Prine and Houston were both charged with first-degree murder in the case, but Grohs previously dismissed all charges against Houston, ruling that prosecutors had failed to establish he was involved. She has also said that Prine has "very strong evidence" of self-defense, but rejected the defense's attempt to have charges against Prine dismissed under the state's so-called make my day law.

That law, which provide protections to people who shoot intruders inside their residences, does not apply because Vigil was in the front yard, the judge ruled.

Prine, who is free on $250,000 bond, pleaded not guilty Friday and is due for a March 12 trial.

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