Prosecutor replaced, considering legal action

Updated: January 8, 2008, 9:27 PM ET
Associated Press

SOMERVILLE, N.J. -- The judge who was to have led the prosecution team in the manslaughter retrial of former New Jersey Nets star Jayson Williams has been replaced and is no longer with the Hunterdon County Prosecutor's Office.

Katharine Errickson, an assistant prosecutor who was the second member of the team during the first trial four years ago, is considering legal action against her former employer, according to a published report.

The departure of Errickson is the latest turmoil in the Williams case. Just last week, the trial judge delayed the trial -- which was to have begun Monday -- so prosecutors could appeal a ruling concerning a racial slur made by an officer investigating the 2002 shotgun killing of a hired driver.

Over the summer, the man who led the prosecution during the first trial, first assistant prosecutor Steven C. Lember, left the office, citing unspecified differences with prosecutor J. Patrick Barnes.

At that trial, Williams was convicted in 2004 of attempting to cover up the slaying of Costas "Gus" Christofi but was acquitted of the more serious charge of aggravated manslaughter. Jurors were unable to reach a verdict on the reckless manslaughter count, voting 8-4 in favor of acquittal, leading to a retrial on that single count.

Errickson lawyer Nancy Erika Smith said the assistant prosecutor was asked to resign on Friday and is now preparing a whistleblower complaint against Barnes and the prosecutor's office, The Star-Ledger of Newark reported Tuesday. Smith declined to discuss the specifics of the complaint.

Errickson, who is five months pregnant, needed to be hospitalized because of the shock last week and remains under a doctor's care, Smith told the newspaper. A call to Smith's office after business hours Tuesday was not immediately returned.

Barnes declined to comment.

Meanwhile, the retrial is delayed until at least May so prosecutors can appeal an order by state Superior Court Judge Edward M. Coleman in December that they provide Williams' defense with all details surrounding the racial slur.

Barnes had 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 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.

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 afterward.

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

Williams, 39, remains free on bail and has yet to be sentenced on the four cover-up convictions.

Christofi's death occurred at the Williams estate in Hunterdon County, but the trial was moved to Somerville, in neighboring Somerset County.


Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press

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