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Jayson Williams' Jury Stuck on Two Counts

Aired April 29, 2004 - 14:40   ET


MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: In Somerville, New Jersey, some action inside the courtroom where the fate of Jayson Williams, the former NBA star is being decided. CNN's Deborah Feyerick is watching this one closely. She's outside the courthouse. Deborah, what's going on in the court right now?
DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, miles, we are being told, the judge announcing that the jury has reached a verdict on six of the eight counts. However, the jury is now split on two of the counts.

We don't know which counts they've reached a verdict on and which ones they're split on. We're waiting to hear that right now. The judge will give them additional direction so they can go back into the court to see whether in fact they can reach a verdict on the remaining two charges.

Now Jayson Williams is surrounded by his family. We're told that inside two brothers, one sister, his father-in-law and his wife. This morning his wife told CNN when asked she said, quote, "I'm doing well."

Let's listen to the judge right now, hear what he's got to say.

EDWARD COLEMAN, SUPERIOR COURT JUDGE, SOMERVILLE, N.J.: The two charges have been discussed at length. And no decision can be reached on these two charges.

And, jury, let me say that I have discussed your note with counsel and we reviewed your comments to the court. And of course, we all know that there's been a lengthy presentation of evidence in the case. A number of witnesses have been presented.

And I know that you've been very diligent in your deliberations and you've been paying attention during the course of the trial. We appreciate all that.

But let me indicate to you that we are going to ask you to continue in your deliberations. And let me also let you know that if there are any read backs on any testimony that you request, all you have to do is let us do is let us know. If there are any requests on a review of a particular charge in the indictment, let us know, we'll review that, too.

But as far as the deliberations are concerned, I'm going to ask you to continue in your deliberations. And remind you that, that as you know, it's your duty as jurors to consult with one another and deliberate with the view towards reaching agreement if you can do so without violence to your individual judgment.

Each of you must decide the case for yourself. But do so only after a fair and impartial consideration of all of the evidence in this case.

In the course of those deliberations, do not hesitate to re- examine your own views and change your opinion if you're convinced you're wrong. But don't surrender your honest convictions as to the weight or to the effect of evidence solely because of the opinion of some other juror or for the mere purpose of returning a verdict.

You are not partisans. You are judges and we ask you to judge the facts in the case and then apply the law as instructed. With that, we'll ask you to continue in those deliberations. All right?

O'BRIEN: All right. That was Superior Court Judge Edward Coleman.

Just to fill in a little back story, we didn't have much time to get people up to speed. Jayson Williams, as most viewers would know, is charged with manslaughter. And actually a total of eight charges in all in the shooting death on February 14, 2002 of a chauffeur at Jayson Williams's mansion, Gus Christofi.

Deb, I know that the jury had specific question for the judge the other day. And the question of what the word "use" means when used in the context of "using a gun." So do we have sort of piece together where the jury is headed right now?

FEYERICK: Absolutely. There were five notes that were sent out over the course of 2 1/2 days. The note that you referred to refers specifically to charge three, gun possession. And the charge reads that Jayson Williams possessed a gun for an unlawful purpose, that he used a gun for an unlawful purpose.

What they wanted details on is what specifically does that mean? Does that mean he fired it? Does it mean it went off? What does "used" mean?

And the judge said I cannot give you any details. Used means used. You have to take it at that face value. I cannot interpret the indication. And so that was one of the questions they had.

But they also had a lot of questions, Miles, about the tampering charges. Jayson Williams has been charged with three counts that relate specifically to tampering. One is with witnesses, that he tried to tell them to say we were downstairs when the shooting took place even though some were directly upstairs near the master bedroom when the gun went off.

Also tampering with evidence. Of course, Jayson Williams is accused of trying to put the gun into the driver's hands to make it look as if the driver had committed suicide. He's also accused of fabricating evidence. These tampering charges carry anywhere between from probation to five years. And that was actually the first note that they sent out had to do with the tampering charges.

So, of course, Miles, as you know, there's always speculation as to what they're doing and how they're going about analyzing each of the charges. Some said well they must be working backwards. Some people said no, maybe they've already gone through counts one through six and are trying to reach consensus on that.

But right now that's where we are, 15 hours of deliberation over the course of 2 1/2 days. And the judge has sent them back in to deliberate. That's what judges do. They say no other jury is going to reach any different conclusion. So get back in there. And if you have to, either change your mind or convince the others -- Miles.

O'BRIEN: Deb, stand by there for just a moment. I want to bring in Kendall Coffey, an attorney of great note and one of our legal analysts. Kendall, good to have you with us. Can you hear me OK?


O'BRIEN: Let's run through the charges for people who aren't up to speed on all eight charged here. And I'd like to get your take on where the jury might be hung up.

Aggravated manslaughter, reckless manslaughter, aggravated assault, hindering apprehension, tampering with a witness, tampering with evidence, fabricating physical evidence, possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose.

Six out of those eight they've reached a decision on. Do you care to speculate on where they are?

COFFEY: Well, it is always speculation, Miles. But the verdict came back relatively fast. This is not -- and we can think of some other deliberations of recent note, anything that's going to break a record. I think that suggests that there is probably some convictions there.

And the pure unvarnished speculation I would offer is that two of the counts could be the most difficult to reach a conclusion on are the most serious. The two manslaughter counts, one of which is aggravated manslaughter which has potential exposure of 20 years.

The other manslaughter charge, less serious, but also a number of years. Either of those charges would have been required to be put in prison.

And the judge instructing the jury with respect to manslaughter one important defense benefit was he said that if it's mere negligence, it's not manslaughter. So that could be the kind of dilemma that would cause some members of the jury to divide.

There was, frankly, overwhelming evidence with respect to the so- called cover-up charges, the tampering charges. They would almost have to be an extraordinary rejection of all the state's witnesses to have rejected those charges.

But the manslaughter charge is the most serious charges are much closer. That could well be the two counts that the jury is undecided upon.

O'BRIEN: So that would presume that they sort of work their way up.

Deborah Feyerick, you still with us?

COFFEY: It would be.

O'BRIEN: Deb, you still there? OK.

Well, Kendall, those two at the top, they're mutually exclusive, right? You have to pick one, is that correct?

COFFEY: I think the jury would just reach a guilty on one because the other is essentially a so-called lesser included charge. It has the -- standard on the more serious manslaughter charge is basically gross indifference to human life.

The other charge is recklessness. Again something more than negligence but still a recklessness. So one way or the other if a jury reaches verdict on either of those, he would surely be going to prison.

O'BRIEN: Shades of gray there. Obviously the intent here is to get them to do eight of eight.

Is it possible, Deb Feyerick, for them to come back with some sort of incomplete verdict on some portion of the eight charges that are against him?

FEYERICK: No. They really have to reach some sort of verdict on each of those charges. You know, we're all chomping at the bit obviously to hear which charges they've reached a verdict on. But they really must make a ruling on all of those, is my understanding of it.

And the point that Kendall made which is an important one, and that is really Jayson Williams and his legal team won a big victory when the judge said he would instruct the jury that if they find this was an accident, just an accident, then they must find him not guilty.

And so that was a huge win for the defense because even though it may have been reckless, some of the jurors may feel that the gun simply did misfire, as Williams has maintained all along. So that is very significant.

As Kendall mentioned there was overwhelming evidence about the cover-up because people ran into the room after that gun went off. They saw what Jayson Williams was doing. They saw and heard that he was getting rid of the clothing. So all of that, you know, they need to consider, Miles.

O'BRIEN: CNN's Deborah Feyerick in Somerville, New Jersey. She'll be there for a little while longer, as will the jury and everybody else associated with this trial of Jayson Williams, the former NBS star accused of manslaughter and other counts in the death in February of 2002 of Gus Christofi, a chauffeur.

We'll watch it very closely. Thank you, Kendall Coffey, as well.

Back with more LIVE FROM... in just a moment.



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