Defense: Witnesses Saw Williams as 'Meal Ticket'

A prosecutor on Monday dismissed Jayson Williams' (searchclaim that the shooting death of a limousine driver at the retired NBA star's mansion was an accident.

"When you play with deadly weapons, `accident' is no defense," Steven C. Lember said in his closing statement.

Lember said Williams knew the shotgun he was holding was loaded and that he kept several loaded weapons in gun cabinet in his bedroom.

Earlier Monday, a defense lawyer attacked the credibility of two key prosecution witnesses, saying the pair saw Williams as a "meal ticket" and changed their stories after making a deal with prosecutors.

Joseph A. Hayden Jr. insisted the death of Costas "Gus" Christofi (searchwas an accident and that Williams was in no condition after the shooting to lead a cover-up, as the prosecution has charged. Defense lawyers say the shotgun malfunctioned when Williams snapped it shut.

"The bottom line: If you find Mr. Christofi's death was an accident, you must find the defendant not guilty," Hayden said.

Hayden targeted Benoit Benjamin (searchand Kent Culuko, the two witnesses who said they were standing closest to Williams when the shotgun he was holding fired, killing Christofi.

Benjamin, Williams' former teammate on the New Jersey Nets, and Culuko both agreed to testify against Williams after cutting a deal with the prosecution.

Of six firearms in Williams' cabinet that night, four were loaded, testimony showed.

Lember derided the defense contention of a malfunction, reminding the jury that both sides tested the shotgun, but, "No expert could ever get that shotgun to fire without pulling the trigger."

Christofi, 55, was shot in Williams' bedroom in the early hours of Feb. 14, 2002, while Williams was giving friends and members of the Harlem Globetrotters a tour of his mansion.

Williams, 36, faces eight charges, including aggravated manslaughter. He also is accused of attempting to cover up the shooting by trying to make it look like a suicide and persuading others to lie about where they were when it happened.

The charges carry up to 55 years in prison. The least of the charges carries a penalty of up to 18 months in prison, but likely would result in probation.

Williams retired from the Nets in 2000 after a decade in the NBA, unable to overcome a broken leg suffered a year earlier in a collision with a teammate.