On May 1, 2002, former NBA All-Star Jayson Williams was indicted on a series of charges, including aggravated manslaughter, in connection with the shooting death of limousine driver Costas Christofi.
Williams played for the Philadelphia 76ers and New Jersey Nets from 1990 to 1999, when a leg injury forced his retirement. Though he had several brushes with the law, Williams was better known for his affable demeanor and off-the-court charity and youth work, and was widely praised for taking in his nephews after two of his sisters died of AIDS. That all changed on February 14, 2001, when police were called to Williams' 65-acre estate in Alexandria Township, New Jersey, after the shooting of Christofi. A 911 tape reveals that the caller alluded that a man at the estate had shot himself, and that is what witnessed told police when they first arrived at the scene. Soon, though, the story changed, and witnesses began to reveal that it was actually Williams who had been holding the gun.
According to reports, Christofi had been hired to drive a group of Williams' friends, including several members of the Harlem Globetrotters, to a local restaurant, while another group drove with Williams. Once at the restaurant, the men racked up a significant liquor bill. Christofi then drove some of the group back to Williams' estate, where he was invited inside. As the evening continued, Williams invited his guests to check out his gun collection in his mansion's master bedroom. Prosecutors allege that soon after, he took out a Browning 12-gauge shotgun, and, with it pointed toward Christofi, yanked it upward. The gun discharged, sending the fatal buckshot into the driver's stomach. Some witnesses say Williams almost immediately began tampering with the scene to make it appear that Christofi killed himself while the rest of the group had been elsewhere in the house. Williams allegedly jumped into a swimming pool to clean himself, changed clothes, wiped down the shotgun and repositioned it. They also say Williams pressured his guests to lie to police. Williams was indicted for aggravated manslaughter and witness and evidence tampering, among other charges. On April 30, 2004, after a three-month trial, he was acquitted of the most serious charge, aggravated manslaughter, but convicted of four cover-up charges. The jury was unable to reach a verdict on reckless manslaughter, the second most serious charge. Jurors said afterward that they just did not believe Williams intended to kill Christofi. On May 21, 2004 prosecutors took the first steps toward retrying Williams. After several years of delays, in February 2010 he pled guilty to aggravated assault and was sentenced to five years in prison.
Michael Thomas Barry is the author of Murder & Mayhem 52 Crimes that Shocked Early California 1849-1949. The book can be purchased from Amazon through the following link