Judge refuses to modify gag order

Updated: January 22, 2004, 9:05 AM ET
Associated Press

SOMERVILLE, N.J. -- The judge presiding over Jayson Williams' manslaughter trial refused the defense's request to modify a gag order he issued earlier this week.

Superior Court Judge Edward M. Coleman has barred Williams, his lawyers, spokeswoman and prosecutors from speaking outside court about the Feb. 14, 2002, shooting of a limousine driver at Williams' mansion in Hunterdon County.

Coleman issued the order Tuesday after two interviews by Williams and his wife, Tanya, were televised over the weekend.

The judge said the interviews, which aired after the first week of jury selection, could bias potential jurors. His order came just hours before an interview with Dean Bumbaco -- who was at Williams' mansion when the shooting occurred -- aired on HBO's "Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel."

Bumbaco, scheduled to testify as a prosecution witness, said Williams tried to make it appear that the victim, Costas "Gus" Christofi, 55, had killed himself. The allegations spurred Williams' attorney, Joseph Hayden, to seek permission Wednesday for his client's spokeswoman, Judy Smith, to respond to Bumbaco's claims.

"We can't have a state's witness going on television on the eve of trial and trying to stick it to us on the facts," Hayden said.

Coleman rejected the request, saying that allowing spokespeople to respond would only add to the media "feeding frenzy" surrounding the case.

Meanwhile, three more potential jurors were added to the jury pool Wednesday, bringing the total to 27. The selection process will continue Thursday and, once 60 potential jurors are chosen, each side will be allowed to exercise peremptory challenges, or those for which no reason need be given. The defense has 20, the prosecution 12.

A 12-member jury -- along with four alternates -- will eventually hear the case against Williams, 35, who played for the New Jersey Nets before becoming an NBA analyst for NBC. He was suspended from his television job after the shooting, which he maintains was a tragic accident.

At the request of the defense, Coleman moved the trial to neighboring Somerset County, agreeing extensive publicity hurt chances for a fair trial in Hunterdon.

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press