Feb. Trial Date Set in Williams Case
%mlink(STRY:; PHOTO:XTN101-090602; AUDIO:367%)
FLEMINGTON, N.J. (AP) _ A trial date of Feb. 18 was set Friday for former NBA All-Star Jayson Williams, who is accused of fatally shooting a limousine driver at his mansion and then trying to cover it up.
The 34-year-old Williams has pleaded innocent to first-degree manslaughter in the Feb. 14 death of Costas Christofi. Williams also is accused of tampering with witnesses and evidence to make the shooting appear self-inflicted.
If convicted of all the charges, Williams could be imprisoned for nearly 45 years.
Williams, accompanied by his wife Tanya, attended a brief hearing Friday before Judge Edward Coleman. Neither Williams nor his wife spoke during or after the hearing.
``Everybody wants to get the case tried and resolved. The defense wants it done, the state wants it done and the court is accommodating us on that,″ Acting Hunterdon County Prosecutor Steven C. Lember said.
Williams’ lawyers said they expect jury selection to take about three weeks.
The defense team also said Friday that Washington, D.C., lawyer Billy Martin would serve as co-counsel for Williams. Martin’s past clients have included basketball players Juwan Howard, Allen Iverson and Rod Strickland.
``This case is about an accident,″ Martin said. ``We intend to present evidence at trial to show it is about an accident.″
Since the shooting, Martin said, little has come out about Williams’ commitment to public service or the toll the shooting has taken on his family. Martin wanted jurors ``to see both sides of Jayson Williams.″
At the hearing, lawyers told the judge that discovery is almost complete and motions will be filed this month. Defense attorneys said they would consider filing motions addressing the conduct of the grand jury, cellular phone records and search and seizure.
Two of Williams’ former co-defendants have agreed to testify against him. John W. Gordnick, 45, pleaded guilty to evidence tampering last month. The charge carries a maximum penalty of 18 months in prison, but prosecutors will recommend probation if he fulfills terms of a plea agreement.
In April, 29-year-old Kent Culuko pleaded guilty to evidence and witness tampering in exchange for agreeing to testify against Williams.
Both men were at Williams’ rural Alexandria Township estate when Christofi was shot in the early-morning hours. Christofi, 55, was invited inside the home after picking up Williams’ friends at a Harlem Globetrotters game. Prosecutors say Williams was recklessly handling a 12-gauge shotgun when it fired, fatally wounding Christofi in the chest.
During his most recent court hearing, Gordnick said he entered the room after the shooting and saw Williams coming toward him, naked, holding the clothes he had been wearing.
Prosecutors say Williams, Culuko and Gordnick tried to hide the clothes, replace Williams’ fingerprints on the shotgun with the victim’s and persuade other guests to say Christofi had been upstairs alone.
The 6-foot-10 Williams was among the NBA’s best rebounders when leg injuries ended his career. He retired from the New Jersey Nets in 2000.
After the shooting, Williams was suspended from his job as an NBA analyst for NBC.