|Wednesday, March 19
Report: Williams' brother called police for help
TRENTON, N.J. -- The brother of former NBA star Jayson Williams told a police dispatcher that a limousine driver shot himself, according to a newspaper's account of the 911 tape released Wednesday.
Earlier in the day, a state appeals court ordered the release of the 911 tape, made after the Feb. 14, 2002 shooting at Williams' home.
Williams, 35, is charged with first-degree manslaughter and other offenses in the death of driver Costas Christofi. Williams, who is accused of shooting Christofi and then trying to make it look like a suicide, could face nearly 55 years in prison if convicted on all counts.
Attorneys for the Courier News of Bridgewater sought the tape, arguing that it should be released under the state's open records law. But the Hunterdon County Prosecutor's Office contended that releasing the tapes would make it difficult to pick a jury.
On the tape, Williams' brother, Victor, implored the dispatcher to send an ambulance.
"This man has just got shot, he picked up a gun that was loaded and it shot him,'' he said, according to the Courier News. Authorities have said Victor Williams was not present at the time of the shooting.
According to the newspaper, background voices were audible on the unedited tape. At one point, someone demanded that Victor Williams tell the dispatcher to send help immediately.
Judy Smith, a spokeswoman for Jayson Williams, said 16-minute call shows the "pandemonium and chaos surrounding the event.''
"The call, which was made immediately after the accidental shooting, clearly demonstrates the concern that Jayson Williams and others had for Mr. Christofi and the desperate attempt they made to get him immediate medical assistance,'' Smith said.
The appeals court judges said New Jersey's Supreme Court has long held that extreme pretrial publicity does not prevent an impartial jury. The unanimous decision also said the state's recently adopted open public records law applied to criminal proceedings.
"The fact that media coverage may make it more difficult to select and impanel a fair and impartial jury is not a basis to deny access to government records,'' the court ruled.
James Flachsenhaar, executive editor of the Courier News, said the newspaper was pleased the court established a precedent regarding the state's new open records law.
"Their ruling embodies the law as we understood it in the first place,'' Flachsenhaar said.
First Assistant Hunterdon County Prosecutor Steven C. Lember said state prosecutors decided against fighting the ruling, but he refused to immediately release the tape to other media.
At the trial, prosecutors plan to play an "enhanced'' version of the tape, on which background voices can clearly be heard.
The 6-foot-10 Williams was among the NBA's best rebounders when leg injuries led to his retirement from the New Jersey Nets in 2000. After the shooting, he was suspended from his job as an NBA analyst for NBC.
No trial date has been set. An arraignment was scheduled for Thursday.