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Judge: Prior gun incidents not relevant

2/4/2004 - New Jersey Nets

SOMERVILLE, N.J. -- Jayson Williams won key pretrial rulings
in his manslaughter case as a state judge refused to allow
prosecutors to introduce evidence that the retired NBA star killed
his dog with a shotgun and then ordered a witness at gunpoint to
bury the animal.

Superior Court Judge Edward M. Coleman also Wednesday declined
to permit the jury to hear about a pistol discharge at the
Meadowlands sports complex that resulted in Williams being ordered
to make speeches and place advertisements warning of mixing alcohol
and firearms.

The defense had opposed the two-pronged motion, with lawyer
Joseph A. Hayden Jr. saying, "It is a strategic attempt by the
prosecution to smear Mr. Williams in the eyes of the jury and deny
him a fair trial."

Assistant Hunterdon County Prosecutor Katharine L. Errickson
argued that evidence about Williams' previous carelessness with
guns was relevant.

"He knew the dangers of guns and alcohol, not from the
abstract, but from his own experience in life," she said.

The judge noted the dog episode would be very likely to inflame
the jury against Williams and that the Meadowlands incident
happened eight years before the shooting for which Williams is on
trial.

Williams, 35, faces seven charges, including aggravated
manslaughter and witness tampering, that could carry up to 55 years
in prison.

The retired New Jersey Nets center is accused of shooting and
killing limousine driver Costas "Gus" Christofi at Williams'
Hunterdon County mansion on Feb. 14, 2002, then trying to cover up
the shotgun shooting. Williams says the shooting at his Alexandria
Township home was a tragic accident.

Errickson said the shooting of Zeus, a Rottweiler, took place on
Aug. 8 or 9, 2001, between 2 a.m. and 3 a.m., according to a sworn
statement from Dwayne Schintzius, a former NBA player who was
living at Williams' mansion and working out with him in the hope of
making a comeback.

The incident happened after Williams, Schintzius and another
friend, Chris Duckery, returned from drinking at the Mountain View
Chalet, she said. That is the same restaurant Williams and friends
had been at before the Christofi shooting.

Schintzius, in a sworn interview, said he bet Williams $100 that
he could drag Zeus out of the house. After Williams accepted,
Schintzius pulled the dog outside by his hind legs, the prosecutor
said.

Williams went upstairs and returned with a shotgun. "He blasts
one round into the side of the dog, and another into his head, in
Schintzius' words, almost decapitating him," Errickson told the
judge.

Williams then loaded two more rounds into the shotgun, pointed
it at Schintzius, and said, "Shinbone, get this ... dog off my
porch, or you're next," the prosecutor said. Schintzius and
Duckery complied, and buried the dog, she said.

A statement issued Wednesday by Williams' father, E.J. Williams,
called Schintzius "unstable" and his story "a blatant lie."

The other gun incident was in 1994. Williams was charged with
reckless endangerment and possession of a weapon after a shot hit
the hubcap of an unoccupied security vehicle outside the
Meadowlands Arena in East Rutherford. The charges were dropped a
year later, after he completed a program for first offenders.

Both sides agreed Wednesday that prosecutors would not introduce
any evidence that Williams had a connection to organized crime or
to the use of illegal drugs or steroids.

No such evidence, if it exists, has been made public. Neither
side could comment outside court because Coleman has imposed a gag
order.

In other rulings Wednesday, Coleman said he would permit
evidence that a blood test of Williams eight hours after the
shooting showed alcohol in his system, but not that the level was
0.12 percent, which is above the legal limit for driving.