A Clayton County jury deliberated most of the day Thursday before convicting a Morrow man of murder and other felonies in the September 2010 shooting death of his friend.
The jury didn’t buy Tony Van’s self-defense story. Van, 28, took the stand Wednesday to admit to shooting Jonathan Pringe, 20, but claimed he was in fear for his life. Judge Matthew Simmons set a March 28 sentencing date where several of Pringe’s relatives are expected to speak.
Under Georgia law, Van faces a mandatory minimum sentence of life in prison. The other charges included aggravated assault, terroristic threats and possession of a firearm during the commission of a crime. The jury rejected a possible voluntary manslaughter conviction over the more serious felony and malice murder charges, holding Van responsible for gunning down Pringe without provocation.
Van showed no emotion as the verdict was read and was taken back to the Clayton County Jail to await sentencing.
Clayton County Chief Assistant District Attorney Erman Tanjuatco prosecuted the case with assistant district attorneys Caroline Owings and Deah Warren. It was the women’s first murder trial.
“We believe the verdict speaks the truth, given the evidence in this case,” said Warren. “We’re pleased the jury was able to see the evidence and render the proper verdict.”
Owings said Van’s self-defense claim was shattered by the evidence. Georgia is one of 21 states with a “stand your ground” law, allowing a person to defend himself if confronted with deadly force. However, self-defense falters when there is a lag in time between the threat and the action taken against it.
“I think the main thing was that he was outside the car when he fired the gun,” said Owings. “There was also a gap in time. There were lots of steps he took before he took that first shot.”
The two men were in Van’s Acura after a night of gambling and hanging out. At some point, the two argued and Van told police an intoxicated Pringe threatened to slice his throat. Van told police Pringe was known to carry a knife and he saw Pringe reach into his pocket.
But Van later changed his story and said he never saw a knife and never saw Pringe reach into his pocket. Other witnesses testified that Pringe was not armed when he was shot.
Owings said Van stopped the Acura, turned off the ignition, set the parking brake, took off his seat belt, got out of the car, folded the seat back, reached under the seat for the gun, stood outside the car and fired into it.
“At no time did the victim ever come toward him or wave a knife in front of him,” said Owings.
That gap in time diluted Van’s self-defense claim but his post-shooting actions didn’t help, either, said Warren. Van drove away, leaving Pringe bleeding to death in the street. He died two hours later at Southern Regional Medical Center, his body almost completely drained of blood, testified the pathologist who performed the autopsy.
Van fled the area and was found three days later in Mount Zion, a small municipality in Carroll County, about 40 miles west of Atlanta.
“This is your friend and you leave him in the road to die? You just drive away?” she said. “His post-shooting actions were what a guilty person does.”