6 years after killing, Jayson Williams case still not over Print
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Wednesday, 13 February 2008 12:52
NBA Headline News

 NEWARK, N.J. (AP) -In the six years since the shotgun killing of a hired driver by former NBA star Jayson Williams, there has been both dramatic change and the sense that nothing much has changed at all.
As the case grinds on, the family of Costas ``Gus'' Christofi awaits closure that seems more elusive now than it did on Feb. 14, 2002, the day he died - or even on April 30, 2004, the day a jury convicted Williams of covering up the crime but deadlocked on a reckless manslaughter count.
``It hasn't gotten any easier,'' Christofi's sister, Andrea Adams, said, speaking by telephone from the restaurant she owns in Somerville, not far from the courthouse where the first trial was held.
``In two days it'll be the anniversary of his death, and there is no closure yet, and we have no clue what's going to happen,'' she said.
The facts of the case are well-established.
g off a shotgun in his bedroom, Williams snapped the weapon shut and it fired one shot that struck Christofi in the chest, killing him.
Witnesses also testified that Williams tried to cover up his involvement in the shooting by initially placing the gun in the dead man's hands and instructing those present in the bedroom to lie about the incident.
The defense has maintained the shooting was an accident and that Williams panicked afterward.
Williams, who will turn 40 next week, has been free on bail since the shooting and even tried to resurrect his injury-shortened basketball career in 2005, when he had a short stint in the minor league Continental Basketball Association.
A retrial on the reckless manslaughter count was postponed from early January and might not begin until this summer at the earliest. Williams, his attorneys and the prosecutors are under a gag order issued by state Superior Court Judge Edward M. Coleman that forbids them from discussing the case publicly.
Steven Lember, who prosecuted the first trial but resigned in August over philosophical differences with Hunterdon County Prosecutor L. Patrick Barnes over the Williams case, expressed dismay that no resolution had been reached.
h the system.''
Katharine Errickson, who took over for Lember, was fired in January and is preparing legal action against the county prosecutor's office for discrimination, her attorney, Nancy Erika Smith, said. Barnes declined to comment.
The retrial was delayed by a dispute over whether it would constitute double jeopardy (it won't), then by the question of whether evidence of the cover-up could be introduced (it can).
The latest delay occurred after it was revealed that an officer with the county prosecutor's office, who did not testify at the first trial, used a racial slur when referring to Williams in 2004.
The four cover-up charges carry up to 13 years in prison, but the actual term could range from probation to about five years. Coleman ruled that Williams wouldn't be sentenced for the cover-up convictions until after the retrial, a decision that troubles Adams.
``If anyone else had committed this crime with the cover-up, which was proven, and tampered with witnesses, do you think they would be out free?'' she asked. ``Shouldn't there be some sort of punishment?''
Five years ago, Christofi's family received a reported $2.75 million settlement from the former NBA player. Williams retired from the NBA in 2000 due to injuries but received about $60 million, the remainder of a six-year, $86 million contract he signed in 1999 with the New Jersey Nets.
d Press this week that her husband is disappointed the case has taken so long to resolve but that ``he understands that whatever it takes to allow the system to work, he's willing to accept that responsibility.''
Tanya Williams has not shied away from public life - she and her husband own a restaurant, T.R.Y. J's, in Trenton - and on Thursday is scheduled to launch a Web site, www.familiesaffected.com, that aims to help families who have been thrust into the spotlight through trauma or tragedy.
Among the site's first guest commentators will be Ben Chaney, brother of slain 1960s civil rights worker James Chaney.
Williams said she expects some negative backlash and stressed that the idea for the site grew out of a desire to help others benefit from her experiences.
``We don't seek sympathy or empathy from anyone. We are prepared to work within the system for justice,'' she said. ``If you're angry at me because I'm trying to be helpful, I'll take that. If you're angry at me because I love my husband, I'll take that.''
A hearing on the issue of the racial slur is scheduled for May 14. Adams will likely be in court, as she was for the first trial and most of the hearings and conferences since then.
Costas Christofi had kicked a drug and alcohol habit and had been clean for five years before he died, Adams said. She feels her brother needs a resolution to the case as much as she does.
``One way or the other, it's never going to be all right, it's always going to be there hanging over me,'' she said. ``But unless there's some sort of justice, I don't believe he'll rest in peace either.''
 

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