Attorneys for Jayson Williams implored New Jersey's Supreme Court on Tuesday to allow them access to information about a racial slur uttered by an investigator in the manslaughter case against the former basketball star.
The court is considering arguments about what effect the slur
may or may not have had on the investigation into the shooting of
hired driver Costas "Gus" Christofi at Williams' mansion in Feb.
Williams, who played nine seasons in the NBA for the New Jersey
Nets and Philadephia 76ers before retiring in 2000, was convicted
in 2004 of trying to cover up the shooting but acquitted of
aggravated manslaughter. The jury deadlocked on a reckless
manslaughter count, and a retrial is pending.
Defense attorneys indicated Tuesday that they could seek to have
the original convictions overturned depending on what they find if
the court rules they are allowed to investigate the slur incident.
State Superior Court Judge Edward M. Coleman previously ruled that
defense attorneys could have access to details of the incident, and
an appeals court upheld that ruling last year.
Williams, who has been free on bail since the shooting, did not
attend Tuesday's session.
Though the slur was made during a briefing at the Hunterdon
County Prosecutor's Office in 2002, prosecutors didn't divulge the
incident until 2007.
"We were given it five years too late, but certainly we have
the right to take it where it leads," defense attorney Joseph
Hayden told the court Tuesday.
Williams' defense team is seeking two reports stemming from the
incident as well as the identities of those who were in the room
when the slur was made to try and establish whether the comment was isolated or whether it represented more widely held views.
Hunterdon County Assistant Prosecutor Bennett Barlyn argued
Tuesday that giving the information to the defense would be
"utterly pointless" because the defense is focusing on possible
impeachment of witnesses and the officer did not testify at
Williams' first trial and won't testify at the retrial.
"This case is not a whodunit or 'How was it done?"' Barlyn
added. "The defense has conceded the events in question. The issue
is whether the defendant was criminally reckless, and what was his
state of mind."
Barlyn called the slur "admittedly reprehensible" but said the
officer wasn't calling on others to conspire against Williams.
Justice Barry T. Albin interjected, "We don't know. We know
very little. You know a whole lot more than we do and a whole lot
more than the defense."
Hayden seized on that theme, accusing the state of "asking us
to rely on the kindness of strangers" and characterizing Barlyn's
approach as, "'Trust us, we'll tell you who was there, don't
During his argument Tuesday, Barlyn said the officer "played a
marginal role in the investigation and prosecution of the
Hayden countered by reading from a police report that said the
officer, whom he termed the second-highest ranking officer in the
prosecutor's office, was present at the scene within a few hours of
the shooting and "assisted in coordination and supervision of
members of the Hunterdon County Prosecutor's Office and New Jersey
State Police in conducting the investigation."
The session took an unexpected turn when a justice divulged the
last name of the previously unidentified officer.
During oral argument by Barlyn, Justice Roberto Rivera-Soto
interrupted and said, "Let's talk about Captain Hunt."
The name of the officer had been kept under seal since the fall
of 2007 when Hunterdon County Prosecutor J. Patrick Barnes reported
the incident to Coleman, who presided over Williams' first trial.
But in a sometimes sharp exchange with Barlyn on Tuesday,
Rivera-Soto went on to accuse Hunt of "hiding behind a seal."
"It strikes me that if this individual makes a comment which he
admits he made, he should stand behind it and he should not be
cloaked by any seal whatsoever," Rivera-Soto said.
Attorneys for both sides are under a gag order and forbidden to
discuss the case with the media. Hunterdon County Prosecutor J.
Patrick Barnes did not immediately return a phone message seeking