It is impossible to know what really happened in the early morning hours on February 17, 1991. Sometime between 1:00 a.m. and 1:15 a.m., Christian Prince ’93, a Yale sophomore, was shot and killed on Hillhouse Ave. There were two trials, countless New York Times articles, and an entire book, “Dead Opposite,” written about this murder. But the murder goes unsolved, and probably always will.
Very little is known for sure about this seemingly random and horrific act. But a few facts have been confirmed. Prince went to a party at the Aurelian Senior Society at Yale’s Sterling-Sheffield-Strathcona Hall. When it ended at 1:00 a.m., some of his friends headed to Naples for pizza, but Prince declined. He had lacrosse practice the next day.
Prince walked down Grove St and turned left on Hillhouse Ave. He was heading towards his off-campus apartment, five minutes away, at the corner of Whitney Ave. and Trumbull St.
He never made it there. A Yale graduate student, James van Bergen ’91, was driving with friends on Hillhouse Ave. He was the first to spot the body in front of St. Mary’s Church. Prince was lying spread-eagled on his back on the middle set of stairs, as if he had tumbled down the stairs and landed at that spot. He had an abrasion above his left eye and a small bullet hole in the center of his overcoat. His wallet was lying across Hillhouse Ave, more than a hundred feet away.
Prince was rushed to Yale-New Haven Hospital at 1:43 a.m. For 23 minutes, doctors infused new blood through IVs, administered drugs and performed electroshock. He was pronounced dead at 2:06 a.m.
“The murder that changed it all”
February 17, 2004, will mark the 13th anniversary of Prince’s death. It was “the murder that changed it all,” according to an earlier Yale Daily News article, the murder that caused Yale to radically increase its security force to its present level. Within days, administrators made plans to increase security and police funding. Later that year, the University installed a network of blue phones, improved lighting, expanded its police department, and created a new security force.
“There was a pretty comprehensive review of police and security measures around campus,” said University Deputy Secretary Martha Highsmith, who oversees police and security on campus. “We added to the campus $2.5 million in outdoor lighting that was specifically designed for security purposes.”
She said the University also added bike patrols and increased police visibility.
Prince’s murder reminded the University community that the fates of Yale and New Haven were intertwined, and that the University needed to take a role in building a safer and more prosperous New Haven.
Although most members of the Yale community take this interdependence for granted today, many did not before Prince’s murder. For students and administrators, there was a common conception of an imaginary ivy wall separating the University from its surroundings. After all, 17 years had passed since the last Yale student, Gary Stein ’76, was slain in 1974.
During the 1980s, New Haven was a very different city than it is today. Like many New England cities during the 1960s and 1970s, New Haven suffered economic decline due to population loss and industrial relocation. During these years, the city’s population dropped by more than a quarter, to 122,000. Nearly 50,000 of the remaining residents were poor, unskilled, undereducated, or unemployed — often all of these. More than 20 percent of the city’s residents lived below the poverty line, and “real unemployment” ran as high as 30 percent.
For the next generation, there was little hope. Fewer than a tenth of the students in New Haven’s poorer districts, according to the results of a 1990 test, read at or above grade level. Heroin, since the 1960s, had been a staple of life in the poorest communities, but cocaine, by 1990, was to become by far the largest problem for the city.
With cocaine distribution came gangs and, inevitably, guns. In 1960, only six murders, four rapes and 16 robberies were reported. Soon, the drug gangs set up shop and marked out their territories. Turf wars began. New Haven witnessed numerous drive-by shootings, the killing of innocent victims, and murders in broad daylight. Gangs sprayed bullets at school buses and killed a 6-year-old girl, mistaking her parents’ car for that of a rival gang.
Between 1989 and 1991, there were 1,162 shootings, a little more than one a day. Half of the homicides reported in the city were the result of gang violence, and roughly 75 percent of the victims were black.
This was the world in which James Duncan Fleming, alleged murderer of Prince, was born and raised.
Now you see it —
The police arrested James Duncan Fleming, known commonly as Dunc, several months after the murder of Prince on four charges: first-degree murder, felony murder, attempted robbery, and conspiracy. The police were tipped off by Randy Fleming (no relation), a self-alleged witness to the crime who was picked up on charges of marijuana possession.
Dunc and Randy Fleming were at the Oasis club in New Haven the night of February 16, 1991. They were 16 and 17 years old, respectively, and legally not allowed to enter the club. But Dunc Fleming had connections. He was a member of the gang Lynch Mob. So was Randy, possibly, depending on who you ask. Both men are now serving jail time for crimes unrelated to Prince’s murder: Dunc Fleming for conspiracy charges, and Randy Fleming for assault. A year after Prince’s murder, Randy Fleming shot a 16-year-old in the head with a stolen gun. The victim survived, crippled.
But those crimes all took place afterwards. Now the two men were at the Oasis Club with fellow gang members. In the police account, the bartender said that Randy and Dunc Fleming left the bar at 12:45 a.m.
In testimony to the police, Randy Fleming said he got into his car after leaving the club. Dunc Fleming sat in the passenger seat. They had no planned destination. When they arrived at the eastern edge of the Yale campus, they spotted a white man. Randy Fleming stopped the car, and Dunc Fleming got out. According to Randy Fleming’s testimony, Dunc Fleming robbed the man, hit him across the face with a gun, and then, when the man was lying on the ground, shot him for no apparent reason.
With an eye-witness to the crime, it seemed to many that Dunc Fleming was guilty of the murder of Prince. But later, Randy Fleming denied his testimony in court.
“I said it but it ain’t true,” he said almost a year after he had given his original testimony to the police. “They pressured me. They’d give me so much time I wouldn’t believe it — I couldn’t see my mother, I had no lawyer, what could I do?”
The loss of a key witness dealt a serious blow to the prosecution’s case. In the end, the jury acquitted Dunc Fleming of first-degree murder and conspiracy and deadlocked on charges of felony and attempted robbery. A second trial was called, but very little additional evidence was presented, and the jury acquitted Dunc Fleming.
There have been no other suspects in Prince’s murder, and the case has remained unsolved.
Keeping a legacy alive
Prince came from a family that had attended Yale for four generations. Edward Prince ’59, Christian Prince’s father, was a prominent Washington lawyer. The family lived in Chevy Chase, Maryland, a wealthy suburb just outside of Washington, D.C. Prince attended the Lawrenceville School, a preparatory school in southern New Jersey.
Despite Prince’s privileged background, he was far from the typical rich, preppy white boy.
“He was a very sensitive kid, a good student, a good athlete, had lots of friends,” said his father, Edward Prince. “He was an all-around over-achiever, and he blew everybody away.”
He loved the outdoors. He mountain-climbed and skied. On one occasion, he canoed to the Arctic Circle.
Friends and family said Christian was ambitious and a dreamer. They said he planned to work for the government some day, perhaps with the Environmental Defense Fund, like his sister. His father said he was thinking about majoring in Latin American studies.
In the book “Dead Opposite,” by Geoffrey Douglas, Larry Downs, a New York psychiatrist and close friend of the Prince family, describes the grief of the family after Prince’s death.
“I’ve seen it before,” he said, “in emergency rooms, in Vietnam — but never like that day — Even Ted [Prince’s father] — If you hugged him, he’d come back to life for a minute or two, then start to fade away again.”
Prince’s father, Edward Prince, has found ways to cope. He established the Christian Prince Memorial Lacrosse Scholarship in 1991. Its first recipient was Brendan Doyle ’96, who played both lacrosse and hockey for Yale.
“The scholarship is basically to keep [Christian’s] memory alive,” Edward Prince said. “It also keeps me in touch with Yale. Christian loved lacrosse, and I prefer to give money to the lacrosse fund than to the university as a whole. It is rewarding when I get letters from players who have received the scholarship. I’m glad someone else can benefit from this tragedy.”
Coming to grips with the great divide
It is not hard to see why many came to view Prince’s murder as a symbol of racial hatred and of Yale’s distance from New Haven. Prince was a white Yale student from a prep school and an affluent family. Dunc Fleming, his alleged murderer, was said to be a misguided and violent black youth from the poorest of New Haven’s neighborhoods.
Prince’s murder has been compared to a situation in Richard Wright’s novel, “Native Son.” In the novel, a poor, violent black man murders a wealthy lady for no apparent reason. The public is outraged at this “hate crime,” which they believe to be a contemplated and malicious act. But Wright makes us think beyond these impulsive conclusions, and seems to ask, who is really to blame for a murder — the man or the appalling conditions in which he was raised? Similarly, after Prince’s murder, Yale administrators and students started asking, to what extent was Yale indirectly responsible for Prince’s murder by neglecting the city of New Haven, unconcerned with its extensive economic decay and widespread crime?
Almost overnight, Prince’s murder changed the way the administration viewed Yale-New Haven relations. Since then, Yale has slowly moved towards a working relationship with the city and emerged as a possible force for economic revitalization.
When current University President Richard Levin took office in 1993, he publicly declared a commitment to community outreach initiatives. Since then, Yale has taken a leading role in the economic development in the city, strengthening public schools, increasing home ownership, and revitalizing neighborhoods and the downtown area.
“There was a recognition that the help of the city and the help of the university are combined,” Highsmith said.
Levin created the Office of New Haven and State Affairs in 1995, which is today headed by Bruce Alexander, a vice-president of the University. One of the goals of the Office is to strengthen the University’s links to the city on all levels, from City Hall and the Chamber of Commerce to neighborhood management teams.
Michael Morand, associate vice-president of the Office, said economic development is key to making New Haven a safer place.
“Economic growth and crime reduction are synergistic,” he said. “Crime reduction creates a climate for economic growth, and economic growth helps keep crime reduced.”
Morand believes Yale’s commitment to the community has proven effective in decreasing crime statistics. Crime in the city has dropped by nearly 57 percent in the last decade, according to the Uniform Crime Report prepared by the New Haven Police for the FBI. The decrease in crime was greatest from 1998 to 2001, during which reported crime dropped almost 30 percent. Those years also saw an even greater decrease in murders, rapes, and armed burglaries.
“Public safety is essential to a healthy community and economic growth,” Morand said. “The mayor and city government, with assistance from partners including Yale, have done a great job in tackling crime and making New Haven a safe place to live. They have helped unlock the tremendous potential of our city and created the conditions that we see now.”