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Wednesday, May 27, 2009
Officials: Williams' conduct warrants jail

ESPN.com news services

NEWARK, N.J. -- Prosecutors on Wednesday asked a judge to sentence Jayson Williams for covering up a fatal shooting at his mansion in 2002 and cited the former NBA star's recent erratic behavior, including an assault arrest in North Carolina.

Williams, 41, was acquitted of aggravated manslaughter in 2004 but convicted on four counts of trying to cover up the slaying of a hired driver at his mansion. The jury couldn't reach a verdict on a reckless manslaughter count, and state Superior Court Judge Edward M. Coleman has delayed sentencing pending Williams' retrial on that charge.

Williams
Williams

The four cover-up counts, which include witness and evidence tampering, carry a combined maximum sentence of 13 years in prison, but Williams is not expected to receive a term longer than five years, the maximum sentence for the most serious charge.

A month ago, police used a stun gun on Williams during an altercation in a New York hotel room, and last weekend he was arrested in North Carolina and charged with assault for allegedly punching someone in a barroom dispute. Earlier this year, his wife filed divorce papers claiming he was abusive and had a drug problem.

"Defendant's escalating acts of unlawful and aberrant behavior must incur consequences that he has thus far evaded as the clear result of never having been sentenced on his convictions," Hunterdon County Assistant Prosecutor Bennett Barlyn wrote in Wednesday's motion.

Williams' retrial, now scheduled for January, has been pushed back several times, notably after it was disclosed in 2007 that an investigator in the prosecutor's office used a racial slur to describe Williams in 2002. Williams' defense team is seeking to have the cover-up convictions reversed on grounds of racial bias.

Barlyn argued in court papers that those efforts should be considered by an appellate court and should not delay sentencing.

"Further litigation, appeals and unanticipated delays are an absolute certainty," he wrote. "These anticipated and inevitable postponements should no longer delay sentencing for the crimes defendant has been found guilty of committing."

It was not immediately known when Coleman would rule on the motion.

Parties in the case are under a gag order issued by Coleman. Barlyn and Joseph Hayden Jr., the lead attorney representing Williams, did not return messages seeking comment Wednesday. A spokeswoman for Williams did not return a phone message Wednesday.

According to witnesses, 55-year-old Costas Christofi was killed when Williams took a loaded 12-gauge shotgun from a cabinet in his bedroom in front of several people and cracked it open, then snapped it closed. The gun fired once, hitting Christofi in the chest.

Witnesses testified that Williams wiped down the shotgun and placed it in the victim's hands, then stripped off his own clothes and jumped into his pool.

Williams' defense team says the shooting was an accident and that the gun misfired. Christofi's family received a reported $2.75 million settlement from Williams in 2003.

A former star at St. John's University, Williams played nine seasons in the NBA for the Philadelphia 76ers and New Jersey Nets. Injuries forced him to retire in 2000.

Williams' wife, Tanya Young Williams, recently filed for divorce and has accused her husband of adulterous and abusive behavior. She told the New York Daily News on Tuesday that he should seek psychiatric help.

"Jayson should voluntarily admit himself for inpatient treatment so that one day he can be the mentally and emotionally stable father my daughters deserve," Young Williams told the newspaper via an e-mail.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.