Judge in Jayson Williams retrial reviews racial slur material, no ruling yet

12/13/2007 - New Jersey Nets

NEWARK, N.J. -- The judge overseeing the retrial of former
NBA star Jayson Williams ordered prosecutors Thursday to provide
all details surrounding a racial slur made by an officer
investigating the 2002 shotgun killing of a hired driver.

State Superior Court Judge Edward M. Coleman reviewed the
material in his chambers with defense lawyers and prosecutors. He
made no immediate ruling on what might be admissible.

Williams' defense team argued that prosecutors are obligated to
give them all details about the incident, including the identity of
the officer who made the slur and the person who heard the slur and
subsequently filed an official complaint.

"We want to know: Who was that officer? What was his role in
the investigation?" defense attorney Joseph Hayden said Thursday.
"Who did he supervise? Who else was there? How were they impacted?
Were they coerced or intimidated by comments like that? This is
what we should have known five years ago.

"Was it indicative of an attitude toward Mr. Williams in the
investigation, or just of that particular officer?"

Hunterdon County Prosecutor J. Patrick Barnes alerted the judge
about the unspecified slur in a letter Oct. 18, telling him that a
"superior officer" was accused of using a racial epithet to
describe Williams in a meeting sometime before the 2004 trial. The
letter did not name the officer or specify what was said.

The incident was referred to the state Division of Criminal
Justice for investigation, which affirmed that the officer made the
slur. The still-unnamed officer did not testify at the first trial
and has since resigned.

On Thursday, prosecutors denied charges they acted improperly by
failing to notify the defense team about the slur or the resulting

"This individual is not the Hunterdon County equivalent of Mark
Fuhrman," Hunterdon County Assistant Prosecutor Bennet Barlyn
said, referring to the Los Angeles Police detective who was accused
of tampering with evidence in the O.J. Simpson trial. "This
individual had no pertinent knowledge about information pertinent
to the case."

Williams attended the hearing with his wife, Tanya Young

Williams, 39, was convicted in April 2004 on four counts
stemming from a failed attempt to cover up the shooting of Costas
"Gus" Christofi but was acquitted of aggravated manslaughter. He
is facing retrial on a reckless manslaughter count after jurors
were unable to reach a verdict, voting 8-4 in favor of acquittal.

The retrial was scheduled for early January, but that could be
delayed. Williams' attorneys have said in a court filing that they
will consider moving to have Williams' earlier convictions

Witnesses at the first trial said Williams took a 12-gauge
shotgun from a case in his house and snapped it closed. The gun
fired once and Christofi was struck in the chest. The defense has
maintained the shooting was an accident and that Williams panicked

Williams remains free on bail and has yet to be sentenced on the
four cover-up convictions.

A former star at St. John's, Williams played nine seasons in the
NBA, including the last seven with the New Jersey Nets, and retired
in 2000.