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Jayson Williams plea hearing delayed indefinitely

DAVID PORTER | 11/20/2009, 9:47 p.m.

Retired NBA star Jayson Williams was not in a New Jersey courtroom Friday, Nov. 20 to enter a plea in the 2002 shooting death of a hired driver. State Superior Court Judge Edward M. Coleman indefinitely delayed a hearing in Somerville in which Williams was expected to plead guilty.

A person with direct knowledge of the situation, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of a gag order imposed by Coleman, told The Associated Press that the delay was partly because of travel problems Williams experienced getting to New Jersey from his home in South Carolina.

Another person with knowledge of the case told the AP on Thursday that Williams would plead guilty to aggravated assault. The person wasn't authorized to talk about the case and spoke on the condition of anonymity.A guilty plea to the assault charge would carry a minimum 18-month sentence because a gun was involved.

Williams was acquitted of aggravated manslaughter in 2004 but convicted of covering up the shooting at his central New Jersey mansion. The jury deadlocked on a reckless manslaughter count. He has been awaiting a second trial for reckless manslaughter, which carries a maximum 10-year prison sentence.

Williams has been free on bail since the Feb. 14, 2002, shooting of Costas "Gus" Christofi. He paid more than $2 million in 2003 to settle a wrongful death lawsuit filed by Christofi's family.

At the 2004 trial, witnesses testified that Williams, who had been drinking, was showing off a shotgun in his bedroom when he snapped it shut and it fired, hitting Christofi in the chest and killing him. They also said Williams put the gun in the dead man's hands and told them to lie about what happened.

Years of legal sparring followed the trial, and came to a head this fall when current and former prosecutors were forced to testify about a former investigator's use of a racial slur to describe Williams.

The slur was made in a law enforcement meeting before the trial but was not divulged to defense attorneys for more than three years after, leading to defense claims that racism had tainted the investigation. But Coleman denied Williams' lawyers request to throw the case out because of prosecutorial misconduct and racial bias.

The 41-year-old Williams played nine seasons with the Philadelphia 76ers and New Jersey Nets before a leg injury forced him to retire in 2000. He attempted a short-lived comeback in the minor league Continental Basketball Association in 2005.

Williams has suffered several recent personal setbacks.

His wife filed for divorce earlier this year, and police used a stun gun on him in a New York hotel after a female friend said he was acting suicidal. He was charged with assault in May after allegedly punching a man in the face outside a North Carolina bar, but charges were dropped. Last week, Williams' father, E.J., with whom he owned a construction business, died in South Carolina.


Associated Press Writer Beth DeFalco in Trenton contributed to this report.