|Judge bars part of 911 call from Williams manslaughter retrial|
|Written by Admin|
|Monday, 16 July 2007 12:43|
The ruling by Superior Court Judge Edward M. Coleman was a victory for Williams' defense team, which had sought to have some statements made on the tape by Victor Williams kept out. It chipped away at a state Supreme Court ruling in April that allowed evidence that Williams tried to cover up the shotgun slaying of hired driver Costas Christofi into the trial.
Williams, 39, attended the hearing, arriving about 30 minutes late. He was silent for most of the day, rising once to answer a question from Coleman while attorneys discussed jury selection issues.
The former New Jersey Nets star was convicted in 2004 of attempting to cover up the slaying 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.
A state appellate panel ruled in April 2006 that Williams could be tried again for reckless manslaughter, rejecting his attorneys' claims that a retrial would constitute double jeopardy.
On Monday, Coleman ruled that statements Victor Williams made to the 911 dispatcher that dealt with the emergency at hand were admissible, but that other statements showing a cover up - including his assertion that Christofi had shot himself - wouldn't be allowed.
Victor Williams was asleep in a different room when Christofi was shot. He was told that Christofi shot himself and was asked by others in the room where the shooting occurred to call 911.
Among the statements Coleman excluded from the tape were comments that could be heard in the background, such as one unidentified person saying, ``Wipe the gun,'' and another saying, ``Tell her he reached for the gun.''
Prosecutors believe that evidence of a cover up would demonstrate Williams' consciousness of his guilt and that the shooting was not an accident, as the defense maintains.
The entire tape was played at the 2004 trial.
Coleman sided with the state when he agreed to let gun safety expert Michael Boyle testify, though he sustained a defense objection about wording that Boyle used in a document describing rules of gun safety. The document lists Boyle's eight basic rules of firearm safety and states that disregarding one or more of the rules is ``risking death or serious bodily injury.'' The judge agreed with the defense that the statement was prejudicial.
Much of the afternoon was spent discussing jury selection and going over the more than one hundred questions contained in a questionnaire for prospective jurors.
Over the defense's objections, Coleman ruled that the state could ask prospective jurors if they felt minority defendants received the same treatment from the justice system as non-minority defendants.
Coleman also denied a prosecution motion to have the jury sequestered during the retrial, which is tentatively scheduled for early January. Coleman added that he would consider using sheriff's officers to escort jurors in and out of the court house during the trial.
Christofi, 55, had driven some of Williams' friends to a restaurant following a Harlem Globetrotters basketball game on Valentine's Day 2002, then back to Williams' estate in Hunterdon County.
Witnesses at the first trial testified that during a tour of the house, Williams took a 12-gauge shotgun from a case and snapped it closed. The gun fired once, striking Christofi in the chest. The defense has maintained the shooting was an accident and that Williams panicked afterward.
Williams retired in 2000 after nine NBA seasons, the final seven with the Nets. He has been free on bail since his arrest in 2002.