Jayson Williams Acquitted, Found Guilty of Manslaughter Cover Up

Posted on May 12, 2004 by LCT Staff - Also by this author - About the author

SOMERVILLE, N.J. - Former NBA star Jayson Williams was acquitted of manslaughter April 30 in the Feb. 14, 2002 shotgun slaying of a limousine driver at his mansion.

However, Williams, 36, was convicted on four charges related to tampering with evidence and trying to cover up the death of Costas "Gus" Christofi, 55, who was killed by a shotgun blast as Williams handled the weapon. The charges carry a maximum penalty of 13 years in prison. Williams could have faced up to 55 years if convicted on all counts. It is expected Williams will receive a sentence of less than five years, the maximum for the most serious count. No date has been set for sentencing.

Juror Shalisha Martin said the vote was 8-4 in favor of acquittal on the reckless manslaughter charge. "I think it was an accident," she said.

First Assistant Hunterdon County Prosecutor Steven C. Lember said no decision had been made on whether Williams would be tried again on that charge. A conference to determine a possible trial date was set for May 21.

Williams displayed no emotion as he stood with his lawyers and remains free on bail. He retired from the New Jersey Nets in 2000 after a decade in the NBA.

The defense argued the shooting was accidental, saying a malfunction in the gun's firing mechanism caused the weapon to fire. Prosecutors contended Williams was handling the shotgun recklessly so it amounted to manslaughter.

Anthony Christofi, a nephew of the victim, said he was disappointed by the split verdict, "But we have to respect the decision the jury made."

Another nephew, Chris Adams, reacted bitterly. Williams "was never held accountable for his actions. He was reckless; he was showing off," Adams said. The shooting happened while Williams gave friends and members of the Harlem Globetrotters a tour of his mansion in Alexandria Township. According to testimony, Williams took a loaded shotgun from a cabinet in the master bedroom.

He turned, uttered an expletive at Christofi, possibly in jest, and as he snapped the weapon shut, it went off.

Christofi was struck in the chest and died within minutes. Williams dropped to his knees and said, "Oh my God! Oh my God!" and "My life is over," according to witnesses.

Witnesses also testified that Williams wiped the gun down, then put it in Christofi's hands. Williams then stripped naked, pushed his clothes into the arms of a friend, told him to get rid of them, and took a swim in his indoor pool before police arrived.

Four Globetrotters testified with immunity, after initially telling police they were downstairs at the time of the shooting, a cover story they said Williams demanded. Two of Williams' friends pleaded guilty to evidence tampering and also testified.

A weapons expert for the defense said the shotgun's firing mechanism was worn and fouled with wood chips, rust and oil. He said the weapon could misfire when snapped shut. Prosecution experts disputed that.

Prosecutors told the jury Williams was reckless because he had been drinking and chose to handle a loaded weapon in a room where other people were standing. "When you play with deadly weapons, `accident' is no defense."

Defense attorney Billy Martin said: "That gun was never pointed, was not aimed. It was not meant to be directed at Gus Christofi.

"Some jail time may do Mr. Williams some good," said the victim’s sister, Andrea Adams.

"Maybe it would give him something to think about, so something like this would not happen again.”

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