Court: Jury can hear about gun being wiped down

Updated: April 11, 2007, 11:49 AM ET
Associated Press

TRENTON, N.J. -- Prosecutors can tell a jury that former NBA star Jayson Williams wiped down a shotgun and jumped into a swimming pool to conceal evidence after a man was killed in his bedroom, the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled Wednesday.

Prosecutors want to present that in a retrial of Williams on a charge of reckless manslaughter. The athlete was convicted in 2004 of attempting to cover up the slaying but jurors were unable to reach a verdict on the reckless manslaughter count.

Williams was acquitted of the more serious charge of aggravated manslaughter, with his lawyers arguing the shooting was accidental.

His lawyers argued that it would be improper for the new jury to hear what happened after Williams snapped the shotgun shut, which sent a single blast into the chest of hired driver Costas "Gus" Christofi on Valentine's Day 2002.

In a 4-3 decision, the high court rejected that argument, saying "consciousness of guilt evidence is relevant to defendant's mental state at the time of the shooting for which he is charged with reckless manslaughter."

Prosecutors had told the court that evidence of a cover-up is relevant to whether the shooting was reckless or an accident.

Prosecutors and defense lawyers had no immediate comment on the ruling. The trial judge has told both sides to not talk to the media.

No date has been set for the retrial.

Christofi, 55, was with a group of friends and Harlem Globetrotters touring Williams' Hunterdon County estate following a Globetrotters game in Bethlehem, Pa. He had driven some of the players to a restaurant with Williams and his friends, then took some of the group to the estate.

Williams, 39, retired as the New Jersey Nets center in 2000. He has remained free on bail since his arrest in 2002 and plans to appeal.

Sentencing on the four cover-up counts was postponed until after the retrial. Collectively, those charges carry up to 13 years in prison. Reckless manslaughter carries up to 10 years in prison.

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press