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Jayson Williams Expected to Turn Himself In For Shooting

Aired February 25, 2002 - 10:02   ET


LEON HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: Jayson Williams was once an NBA star with and $85 million contract. He lives in a 30,000 square foot mansion in New Jersey. Today he's expected to face criminal charges stemming from the Valentine's Day death of a limo driver at that estate.

Let's get the details now, the latest details from CNN's Hillary Lane, who is joining us right now -- and, as I understand it, Hillary, you are exactly where we -- it may be seen soon that Jayson is going to be turning himself in, correct?

HILLARY LANE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Leon. We're outside of the police barracks in Kingwood, New Jersey, which is a rural area, in Hunterdon, where Jayson Williams' home is. And we have been told that the former basketball star will turn himself over this morning to police.

The acting prosecutor, Stephen Lember (ph), will hold a news conference this afternoon, and we have also spoken this morning with Chris Adams, who is a nephew of Gus Christofi, who was the limo driver who was murdered on Valentine's Day. And he confirmed for us that his mother and brother met yesterday with Mr. Lember, and Mr. Lember told them that Williams would turn himself in today and that he would be facing a charge of manslaughter.

Lember also left open the possibility that that charge could become a charge of aggravated manslaughter, but that would be determined at a later date. This all stems back to the Valentine's Day killing. Williams had hired Christofi, as far as we know, at this point, to drive him and some friends from a basketball game to dinner and then back to Williams' 27,000 square foot home, here in Hunterdon County.

It is unclear what happened there, exactly. Whether there was alcohol involved or gun play. But Mr. Christofi bled to death, according to the Hunterdon County medical examiner, and the cause of the death were gun shot wounds fired at mid-range to the chest and -- and to the abdomen.

At this point, what we do know about the manslaughter charge, is that any sort of reckless behavior could result in that conviction. That would be up to prosecutors to prove that there was recklessness involved and not just an accident. Leon? HARRIS: Interesting. Hillary Lane, thank you very much. We'll check back with you. You make sure you contact us immediately if you hear something on that.

Our next guest is the regular commentator on sports and the law.

He is New York attorney and sports columnist Rob Becker. He's got some insights, we hope, this morning, into the Williams persona and this case that's being linked to him. Good morning, Rob, good to see you today.


HARRIS: First of all, let me ask you if you can explain the difference for us right now. You heard Hillary's report there saying the charges could be either manslaughter or aggravated manslaughter. What's the difference between the two?

BECKER: Well, manslaughter is just a recklessness. You consciously disregard a risk that you're aware of, and, as a result of that, someone dies. Aggravated manslaughter is where you show a depraved indifference to human life. And the talk about aggravated manslaughter revolves around the charge that Jayson Williams waited too long to call the police and he allowed this man to bleed to death.

Now, that has not necessarily been established. And even if it is, I think you have a problem with causation here, because there was so much damage to this man's chest, that I don't think it would have made any difference when he called the police. Unfortunately, he was going to die anyway. So I don't think could you say that he died as a result of indifference -- you know, depraved indifference -- to human life. You can only say he died from recklessness.


BECKER: And that's what has happened.

HARRIS: But, you know, I know this has happened at Jayson Williams' house, and that the stories that first came out, were that he was the one twirling the gun. We don't know if that's the case or not. But, you know what? As I understand it, there were, like, what, 14, 15 other people there at the house as well. How come we haven't been hearing about them being hauled in?

BECKER: Well, there's no reason to think they're involved. The reports that I've seen show that there was Jayson Williams, the chauffeur or limousine driver and four members of the Harlem Globetrotters. But there's no reason to believe, if for instance, Jayson Williams was twirling a gun, that doesn't make the other people in the room guilty of any crime. So I...

HARRIS: Yes, but they -- if the other people were waiting just as long as he was to -- before calling the police or anything -- and, plus, someone somewhere came out and said it was a suicide. And there were other guys there helping cover up, at least that's the first initial reports that came out.

BECKER: Right, but -- but that doesn't -- now, you could have -- you could have some accessory liability after the fact. But, you know, here, it doesn't necessarily -- there's not necessarily a duty on the people who didn't shoot him to do something about it. That would have to be established. And I don't know that you could do that. I mean, this is not an group of men who are acting together to cause something to happen.

HARRIS: Yes. Got you. All right, let me ask you about -- about Williams' celebrity? How does it factor in on this case? I know the nephew of the shooting victim was saying something, in one press report I read this morning, about how -- you know, if it was -- if it was him who had committed this crime, he wouldn't be allowed to hang around his house and turn himself in at his own leisure. Do you think that's a factor here in this case?

BECKER: You know, it's possible. But, at the same time, the prosecutor said, "look, you know, the amount of time that's passed between the event and when we're going to charge him is really not that long." It's a perfectly reasonable amount of time for an investigation into a homicide. I tend to think that's right.

I mean, I can understand why the relatives would complain of special treatment, and they don't like the idea the guy spends the weekend in his palatial home. But I think what you -- you want to be responsible, and you want to investigate the crime before you charge him.

In fact, if you remember the Ray Lewis incident, he basically, in the end, was shown to be innocent. And the reason he was involved in that whole case was that he was charged too quickly. And you think about Ray Caruth, on the other hand, who was, in the end, basically, found to be guilty. There, the prosecutors waited a long time before pulling him in.

So, it's smart to make sure you have your facts straight before you charge somebody. Otherwise, you find yourself in a box, particularly with the media covering you, you start to feel a lot of pressure to do things. And I think this guy, Lember, so far, has proceeded in a reasonable manner.

HARRIS: All right. Let me ask you this. One difference between the Ray Lewis and the Ray Caruth cases is that those guys hadn't written books or had any other well-publicized accounts of different activities that they've been -- you know -- controversies they've been involved in in the past. They didn't write a book saying, you know, "Yes, I used it. I drink a lot and shoot a lot of guns and do crazy things."

They weren't facing other charges like Jayson Williams is, as I understand, is still facing charges for firing a semi-automatic weapon at (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

BECKER: No, that's -- that charge -- no, that's gone.

HARRIS: That's been -- okay.

BECKER: That -- that one's gone. The one he's still facing is for shoving an officer.

HARRIS: Okay. There you go. So you -- he's got this kind of a -- this track record that, you know, has been publicized, and he himself has talked about it. If you were his attorney, how would you -- how would you handle that particular factor?

BECKER: Well, you know, I would -- I would say, I would just say it's irrelevant. That he's done things like that in the past, doesn't mean he was reckless on this particular occasion. I mean, you can't just say every time someone is reckless in the past, they will be reckless now. I wouldn't worry too much about that. What I would worry about more, if I were his attorney, is the fact he has a gun rack in his bedroom with several loaded guns. So, I think he's going have a hard time saying, "Hey, I had no idea this thing would go off. You know, I thought all my guns were unloaded."


BECKER: That's going to be the problem that the defense attorney is going to have deal with.

HARRIS: Interesting. Stand -- stand by for a second, Rob.

As I understand it, Hillary Lane is checking in right now. She's got some word on Jayson Williams turning himself in. Hillary, what's the word?

LANE: Yes, Leon. Jayson Williams just turned himself in at here, in Kingwood, New Jersey. He was brought around the back of the police barracks here, wearing a dark green, it looked like, suit, a single-breasted suit. He looked, you know, somber, as you can imagine. But, walked in, freely. He was not handcuffed.

And we believe we saw the prosecutor, as well, walk into a different entrance here. This was expected today, as we had confirmed for you earlier, and we'll be standing by for any details. We're expecting a news conference later this afternoon from Steven Lember, who's the acting...

HARRIS: Hillary, was...

LANE: ...prosecutor here in Hunterdon County, New Jersey. Leon?

HARRIS: I'm sorry. I didn't mean it cut you off there. Sorry about that, but listen, were there any other people there with him?

LANE: There were two other gentlemen who got out of the car. I cannot tell you who they were. I would believe that one of them, at least, must be Mr. Williams' attorney.

HARRIS: Okay, and you couldn't see what happened to them after they went inside the building? LANE: No. They did. They brought him around the back, but we were able to see him walk in. And, like I said, he walked in -- he walked in freely.

HARRIS: Okay. Interesting. Hillary Lane. Thank you very much.

Rob Becker, are you still there with us -- with us?

BECKER: Yes, I am. Sure.

HARRIS: All right. What happens now?

BECKER: Well, you know, he's going to have a press conference. He's probably going to indict this man. And the one thing, though, that I think everyone's assuming another one of these great show trials. I think you have remember the possibility, particularly since he seems to be cooperating, we could have some kind of plea bargain here. And, you know, we may not have something that's going to turn into a media circus. So, you know, we're -- we'll have to just see what happens.

HARRIS: Yes. Very interesting and we will. Rob Becker, thank you very much.

BECKER: Thank you.

HARRIS: We sure do appreciate the insight. Good to see you. Hope to talk to you later on.

BECKER: Thank you.

HARRIS: About more pleasant topics, of course.


HARRIS: Daryn, over to you.

DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: One of the things that people found so remarkable is that Jayson Williams is such a -- such a likable guy, both as player and then as a commentator. I mean, if you ever heard him on the Dan Patrick's (ph) show...

HARRIS: That's right.

KAGAN: ...or any of other radio show, just hysterical.

HARRIS: Exactly.

KAGAN: And nothing funny about what happened here, now. But one of the most likable personalities in sports.

HARRIS: That could play to his favor, in, you know, this case where they may have to try to prove aggravating circumstances or whatever. It may be harder to prove it against a guy who everyone seems to like. KAGAN: We will have to see.


KAGAN: As we heard Hillary Lane report, he has turned himself in. So the legal process grinds on for Jayson Williams.




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