The People (and the Dogs) Versus Jayson Williams

One can judge a society by the way it treats animals. So can one judge a man. That’s why the decision by the judge in the manslaughter case against former NBA star Jayson Williams (search) to not admit evidence that Williams killed his Rottweiler is dereliction of duty.

William's is currently on trial for what he claims was an accidental shooting of limo driver Costas Christofi. (search) His friend Dwayne Schintzius says that in August, 2001, he bet an inebriated Williams $100 that he could drag Williams’ guard dog, Zeus, away from the house, which he succeeded in doing by pulling the dog backward by his hind legs. Infuriated at losing the bet, Williams retrieved a shotgun, then shot the dog once in the side and again in the head, nearly decapitating him.

According to the prosecutor, Williams then reloaded the gun and pointed it at Schintzius, saying “Get this [expletive] dog off my porch, or you’re next.” So, at gunpoint, Schintzius and another friend buried the dog.

Though prosecutors appear to believe the dog incident happened, Williams claims there is no truth to the charges. But this is a man who has additional counts against him for tampering with evidence, which he did when he at first tried to make Christofi’s death look like a suicide. The dog incident goes straight to the heart of a defendant’s character. It could be the best depravity barometer that the case against Williams has. That’s why investigators need to follow up, and they can start by digging up Williams’ backyard for Zeus’s remains.

This alleged animal homicide is also yet another example of Williams’ history of violence, which includes an incident when a bullet from his gun slammed into an empty car at a parking lot--he managed to avoid a felony conviction for reckless endangerment by talking to high school kids about gun safety--and a near miss at his rifle range, when he almost shot a New York Jets wide receiver.

In a teary, faith-talk-filled interview with Barbara Walters in January, the former Nets player, accompanied by wife Tanya, spoke about his fear of standing trial for Christofi's death and of going to prison. But someone who can effortlessly point a gun at a dog, especially his own, and shoot it dead in a single breath is, quite frankly, capable of almost anything. He’s scared of prison? Prison should be scared of him.

Williams told Walters, “I have a beautiful family. I want to be here, for my family…I want to see the birth of my [second] baby…I don’t want to ever leave my family over this accident.”

But it would be safer for his family if he were in prison. Why would any mother want a volatile and unpredictable spouse to be near her children? If anything, Tanya Williams should be a witness for the prosecution, or else risk his violent nature one fine day turning against the family. Besides, if the man of the house isn’t a responsible gun handler, what of his children?

To allow this man to continue living at home would be to enable child endangerment. So why would a competent judge dismiss any of the shooting incidents as evidence? Judge Edward Coleman (search) went on to dismiss six prospective jurors who said they felt swayed by news of Williams’ dog slaying. According to a New York Post story, one bounced juror said, “It was very disturbing to me to think that there was a possible time that a gun could have been misused more than once.” Are these not precisely the considerations that a jury should weigh in rendering a verdict?

Since the dog slaying will play no role in the case against Williams, it becomes all the more important for a New Jersey SPCA (search) investigative unit and prosecutor’s office to follow up on this reported incidence of animal cruelty, now that it’s come to light.

Given that the 35 year-old Williams, who was also an NBC sports commentator and best-selling author, already faces seven charges that could carry up to 55 years in prison, an animal cruelty (search) case against him may seem like anathema. But considering the fact that the trial may end with him serving little to none of that time (for $2.75 million settled out of court, the victim’s own family forgave Williams unequivocally), we as a society should show that animal life is valued. We may have a long way to go—what with industrial farming (search) and a backward fur industry still thriving—but if we don’t step up when it comes to dogs, then we are no better than less civilized countries, where animal welfare (search) is the last thing on the survival-oriented minds of the people, who laugh at American regard for animals.

We’re here to do better, and to serve as an example to the rest of the world. Here, when an enraged driver on a highway tosses another driver’s dog into oncoming traffic, it makes international headlines. Here, we have police precincts devoted to animal neglect and cruelty cases. Here, we honor the canine heroes of Sept. 11 (search), because here we honor man’s best friend. To drop the ball on this now well-publicized animal homicide would be, quite frankly, un-American.

Julia Gorin is the author of the newly released "The Buddy Chronicles," available through, and a contributing editor to She is the ]]featured comedian in Republican Riot, a monthly comedy show in New York.

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