Originally created 04/28/04

Jury deliberations begin in Jayson Williams manslaughter trial



SOMERVILLE, N.J. -- A jury began deliberating Tuesday in the case against Jayson Williams, the former NBA player accused of manslaughter in the shotgun slaying of a limousine driver.

The jury got the case after three months of trial, 43 witnesses and widely divergent versions of what happened the night in 2002 when Costas "Gus" Christofi was killed.

Christofi, 55, was killed in Williams' bedroom while the former New Jersey Nets player was giving friends and members of the Harlem Globetrotters a tour of his mansion. Williams was playing with one of his shotguns when it went off.

Williams, 36, faces eight charges, the most serious of which is aggravated manslaughter. To convict Williams on that charge, the jury must unanimously find that he recklessly caused Christofi's death "under circumstances manifesting extreme indifference to human life."

He is also charged with trying to make the shooting look like a suicide by wiping down the shotgun and putting Christofi's hands on the gun. Prosecutors said he also instructed his guests to lie to authorities.

Collectively, the charges carry up to 55 years in prison.

The jury was sent home for the day after deliberating about 4 1/2 hours.

When they return Wednesday morning, the jurors want to again hear testimony about who told houseguests to lie to police that they were downstairs when the shooting took place.

In closing arguments Monday, defense attorney Billy Martin repeated his insistence that the shooting was "a tragic accident."

"That gun was never pointed, was not aimed, it was not meant to be directed at Gus Christofi," Martin said.

The defense argued also that the gun went off because of a malfunction.

Prosecutor Steven C. Lember said Williams acted recklessly because he had been drinking and chose to handle a loaded weapon. "When you play with deadly weapons, 'accident' is no defense," Lember said.

Lember also reminded the jury that both sides tested the shotgun and neither could make it fire without pulling the trigger.