Ex-NBA Star Williams Due to Admit Guilt in Killing

Published November 20, 2009

NEWARK, N.J. — Former NBA star Jayson Williams is expected to plead guilty Friday in the fatal 2002 shooting of a hired driver, weeks before he faced a second trial for reckless manslaughter.

A person with knowledge of the case told The Associated Press that Williams will plead guilty to aggravated assault. The person wasn't authorized to talk about the case and spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Several other people who also spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to talk about the case confirmed a plea deal had been reached.

Williams was acquitted of aggravated manslaughter in 2004 but convicted of covering up the shooting at his central New Jersey mansion.

He was facing retrial on a reckless manslaughter charge, which carries a 10-year maximum sentence. An aggravated assault charge linked to a crime involving a gun carries a minimum 18-month sentence.

A guilty plea in the court in Somerville Friday would bring a close to a lengthy legal battle that produced a riveting televised trial in 2004, reached the state Supreme Court and exposed prosecutors to allegations of racial bias and misconduct.

It all started the night of Feb. 13, 2002, when Williams brought a group of friends back to his mansion after attending a Harlem Globetrotters basketball game.

Witnesses testified that Williams, who had been drinking, was showing off a shotgun in his bedroom when he snapped it shut and it fired, hitting driver Costas "Gus" Christofi in the chest.

They also said Williams put the gun in the dead man's hands and told them to lie about what happened. He was eventually convicted on four counts of covering up the shooting.

The 2004 trial jury acquitted Williams of aggravated manslaughter but deadlocked on reckless manslaughter. He was scheduled to be retried on that charge in January.

The first trial verdict spawned years of legal sparring that came to a head this fall when current and former prosecutors were forced to testify about a former employee's use of a racial slur to describe Williams.

The slur was before the trial but was not divulged to defense attorneys for more than three years, leading to defense claims that racism had tainted the investigation. But state Superior Court Judge Edward M. Coleman denied Williams' lawyers request to throw the case out because of prosecutorial misconduct and racial bias.

The 41-year-old Williams played nine seasons with the Philadelphia 76ers and New Jersey Nets before a leg injury forced him to retire in 2000. He attempted a short-lived comeback in the minor league Continental Basketball Association in 2005.

In 2003, Williams paid Christofi's family $2.75 million to settle a wrongful-death lawsuit.

Williams has suffered several recent personal setbacks.

His wife filed for divorce earlier this year, and he was Tasered by police in a New York hotel after a female friend said he was acting suicidal. He was charged with assault in May after allegedly punching a man in the face outside a North Carolina bar, but charges were dropped. Last week, Williams' father, E.J., with whom he owned a construction business, died in South Carolina.

Written by Associated Press

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