Court Allows Jayson Williams' Attorneys to Review Use of Racial Slur by Investigator

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Attorneys for former NBA star Jayson Williams can use details about a racial slur uttered by an investigator in the manslaughter case against the former NBA star, a state appeals court ruled Tuesday.

Two of three Appellate Division judges sided with defense attorneys who sought access to documents relating to the slur. Judge Dorothea Wefing dissented and termed Williams' attempts "nothing more than a foraging expedition."

In a 27-page ruling, the court affirmed state Superior Court Judge Edward M. Coleman's Dec. 2007 order that prosecutors provide the documents to Williams' attorneys. It sent the matter back to Coleman to conduct a review to determine which parts are relevant, but ruled the officer's personnel file is off-limits except where it regards the racial slur.

The court also agreed with Williams' attorneys that the slur should have been disclosed before the 2004 trial.

Williams was acquitted of aggravated manslaughter in 2004 but convicted on four counts of trying to cover up the 2002 shooting of a hired driver at Williams' Hunterdon County mansion. The jury deadlocked on a reckless manslaughter count.

The Hunterdon County Prosecutor's Office divulged last October that the slur was uttered in 2002 by a senior officer who did not testify at Williams' first trial and has since retired.

Williams' defense team sought details about the incident, including documents from an investigation by the state Division of Criminal Justice and the identity of others who were present when the officer made the slur at a briefing.

The appeals court rejected prosecutors' arguments that the documents were irrelevant to Williams' pending retrial since the officer wasn't scheduled to testify and the information couldn't be used to attack his credibility.

"While the superior officer may not testify, defendant is entitled to the information to conduct his own investigation into whether racial bias was systemic or merely confined to the superior officer," the court wrote.

Citing a gag order issued by Coleman, Hunterdon County Prosecutor J. Patrick Barnes declined to comment on the ruling Tuesday. Messages left with defense attorney Joseph Hayden and Judy Smith, a spokeswoman for Williams, were not returned.

The dispute over the slur has caused Williams' retrial, originally scheduled for January, to be pushed back.

On the night of Feb. 13, 2002, Christofi had driven Williams and several of the basketball player's friends to Williams' mansion in Alexandria Township after taking them to a local restaurant.

Witnesses testified at trial that while showing off a shotgun in his bedroom, Williams snapped the weapon shut and it fired once, striking Christofi in the chest and killing him.

Witnesses also testified that Williams tried to cover up his involvement in the shooting by initially placing the gun in the dead man's hands and instructing those present in the bedroom to lie about the incident.

The defense has maintained the shooting was an accident and that Williams panicked afterward.

Williams, 40, has been free on bail since the shooting. He retired from the NBA in 2000 after nine seasons with the Philadelphia 76ers and New Jersey Nets.