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Defendant takes stand in murder trial, admits shooting

The defendant in a murder trial took the stand in his own defense Wednesday and admitting to shooting the victim but claimed he acted out of fear for his life.

Tony Van, 28, faces murder and other charges in the Sept. 18, 2010, shooting death of Jonathan Pringe, 20. Pringe died from blood loss after being shot once near his front left shoulder as he sat in the passenger seat of Van’s car. Van was standing outside the car as he aimed and fired at his friend.

He faces a mandatory minimum life sentence if convicted of murder.

Van took the stand Wednesday in Clayton County Superior Court to defend the shooting. He told jurors he feared that Pringe carried a knife and was a gang member.

“I shot one to him,” said Van.

Van gave various reasons for shooting Pringe after the two spent hours together gambling and hanging out. The reasons included an intoxicated Pringe failing to get out of his car after being ordered to by Van, for Pringe not taking him seriously and to teach Pringe a lesson. Van even minimized his intentions.

“I was just aiming for the shoulder,” said Van.

After Pringe was shot, he put his hand to his wound, testimony showed. Pringe held out his bloody hand to Van and said, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry.”

Van said Pringe opened the car door and slumped to the street. Van drove away and was arrested three days later in Mount Zion, a small municipality in Carroll County, west of Atlanta. Despite Van’s fears that Pringe was armed with a knife, no such weapon was found.

But Chief Assistant District Attorney Erman Tanjuatco blasted the self-defense story.

“Was the threat imminent? Excessive force was not justified,” said Tanjuatco. “The defendant was in a position of authority. He was the man with the gun. The victim was a man unarmed. He fired without justification. Jonathan Pringe was murdered.”

Tanjuatco told jurors that Van had sufficient time between the perceived threat and the shooting to not fire the gun.

“If there is an interval between the provocation and the killing, it is murder,” he said. “Don’t cheapen Jonathan Pringe’s life by saying there was serious provocation. He’s saying, ‘I did it but I was justified.’”

Van’s defense attorney, Cal Leipold, told jurors that Van acted within his rights.

“This man is intoxicated sitting next to you, telling you he’ll cut your throat,” said Leipold. “The reason is happened were the threats. There was serious provocation. The victim told him, ‘I’m going to cut you, I’m going to slice your throat.’ Jonathan Pringe was known to carry knives, four or five different types of knives.”

Presiding Judge Matthew Simmons will charge the jury Thursday morning. The case will then go to the jury to begin deliberating. Van is being held in the Clayton County Jail.