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CNN BREAKING NEWS

Williams Trial Verdict Reached

Aired April 30, 2004 - 15:58   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: We're breaking in now to take you quickly to New Jersey. The judge in the Jayson Williams case talking to the courtroom. Let's listen.
(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

JUDGE EDWARD COLEMAN, SOMERVILLE, NEW JERSEY SUPERIOR COURT: Have you got an extra verdict form there?

All right. Have a seat, counsel. Thank you. And Mr. Foreman, we have received your note. We've now marked it as C-10, court exhibit C-10, indicating that you have a verdict on the majority of the counts but unable to reach a verdict on one particular count of the indictment. Is that correct?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Correct.

COLEMAN: And you feel for the record that no further deliberation would be fruitful in attempting to reach a decision on that case from your note?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Correct, your honor.

COLEMAN: OK. And with that, I've discussed it with counsel and we agree what we should do is take the verdict on the counts that you do have, correct, counsel.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, your honor.

COLEMAN: The counts you do have and we'll indicate you're not able to reach a verdict on that one count. So when we go through the jury verdict form, as I told you, we would go through the jury verdict form, when you get to that particular count, just indicate that the jury has not reached a verdict on particular count and then we'll proceed to the next count, OK?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, your honor.

COLEMAN: All right. The we'll ask you to stand and we'll take the verdict on this matter, Mr. Foreman. Would you stand up, Mr. Foreman, please? And the clerk will ask you the appropriate questions.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How do you find as to the charge of aggravated manslaughter, not guilty or guilty?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Not guilty.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How do you find as to the charge of reckless manslaughter?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No decision was reached.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How do you find as to the charge of possession of a weapon for unlawful purpose?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Not guilty.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How do you find as to the charge of aggravated assault?

COLEMAN: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) I know it's a very emotional time. But we're not cheering or booing and if you can't maintain yourself, you can step out of the courtroom. There's strong feelings on both sides of this case.

Yes, the next question.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How do you find as to the charge of aggravated assault?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Not guilty.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How do you find as to the charge of hindering apprehension?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Guilty.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Which acts or methods, which constitute this offense did you unanimously agree have been proven beyond a reasonable doubt? Read the letter.

COLEMAN: Would you let us know which ones? A, B?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Letters A, letter C, letter D, letter F.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How do you find as to the charge of tampering with witnesses?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Guilty.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Which acts or methods which constitute this offense did you unanimously agree have been proven beyond a reasonable doubt?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Letter E, letter G, letter I.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How do you find as to the charge of tampering with evidence?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Guilty.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Which articles or article have been tampered with which constitutes this offense did you unanimously agree have been proven beyond a reasonable doubt.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: B. The shotgun.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How do you find as to the charge of fabricating physical evidence?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Guilty.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Which article or articles have been fabricated which constitute this offense did you unanimously agree have been proven beyond a reasonable doubt?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Letter A.

COLEMAN: All right. We'll take the verdict form from you and mark it as a court exhibit. You can have a seat.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Your honor, we would move the jury be polled.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Join in that, your honor.

COLEMAN: All right. The jury form indicates that the verdict as announced by the jury foreman corresponds with the jury verdict form. The court clerk is going to make a brief statement to you with regard to the poll of the jury. If you'll follow that instruction please.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: As your seat number is called if you'll agree or disagree with the verdict as announced by the foreperson, say you agree or disagree.

Juror in seat No. 1. Do you agree with the verdict?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I agree.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Juror in seat No. 2.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I agree.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Juror in seat number 3.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I agree.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Juror in seat number 4.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I agree.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Juror in seat number 5.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I agree.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Juror in seat number 7.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I agree.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Juror in seat number 8.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I agree.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Juror in seat number 10.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I agree.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Juror in seat number 11.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I agree.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Juror in seat number 13.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I agree.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Juror in seat number 14.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I agree.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Juror in seat number 16.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I agree.

COLEMAN: All right. Jury, with the return of the verdict in this case, your service is complete. And on behalf of counsel, the court and staff, we certainly appreciate the time and the energy that you put into this case. It's been a very exacting request by us on you. It's taken a lot of your time, your personal time, time away from work, time away from your fellow employees.

And I know it's been a burden on a lot of people which the fact that you've been here devoting yourself to this case. We want to say we really appreciate the effort you put into the case. I've observed you throughout the trial. You've paid full attention. Every moment we've asked you to be here, you've been here participating in the trial, giving us your full attention. We appreciate the efforts you put into the case.

And you must realize that the function that you have performed in this case is obviously a very important task. And you've been called on that duty. You fulfilled your duty. And your service here is complete.

As you probably guessed, having walked through the trucks of TV communication trucks that are parked outside everyday, you know that the media people will be looking to interview you about this case.

And they'll be looking to speak with you to find out your input. I mean, saying to you that you certainly have every right to say no, if that's your decision. And they have to respect that decision. You may have to be persistent in your answer no, thank you. And keep walking. But you have every right to say no.

On the other hand, have you every right to say yes. It's up to you.

But you should understand that a key to your deliberations has been a free discussion amongst your selves during deliberations and it's essential for a fair administration of justice that those discussions remain solely within your minds. Not discussed publicly.

Upon your discharge, you're not required except upon court order to discuss your deliberations at all or your verdict at all with anyone. Additionally, nobody connected with this trial would be permitted under our rules to engage you in conversation about your deliberations or your role in the outcome of the case. Certainly every other juror on that panel is entitled to understand and rely on your discretion about their communications made during those deliberations.

All of you had a right to speak your peacefully, plainly and in confidence. So you shouldn't repeat any comments that were made during deliberations that you wouldn't be willing to repeat here in open court and in the presence of everybody.

Now with, that, thank you again for your service in the case. Your service is complete. And if you will follow the sheriff's officers. Ray, you have it in the back?

OK. Why don't you go collect your personal items. They have exit questionnaires for you. Thank you again.

WOODRUFF: Former professional basketball star Jayson Williams found not guilty on the most serious charges against him in the death of a limousine driver. Not guilty of aggravated manslaughter. But in a very interesting split set of verdicts, the jury said they could reach no decision on the charge of reckless manslaughter.

Let's quickly bring in Deborah Feyerick who's been watching this trial. Debbie, we're continuing to listen to the judge here who may want to say something about sentencing. But a very interesting divide set of verdicts.

DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Very interesting indeed because what it means is that Jayson Williams though he was found guilty on the tampering charges means he will serve probation to a maximum five years depending what sentence the judge decides to hand out.

They could not reach a decision on the reckless manslaughter. If they found it was an accident they would have had to find him not guilty. Reckless manslaughter is a charged that says he acted recklessly by holding the shotgun. The prosecutors tried to say when you take a shotgun and it's loaded and you're in a room full of people, that is reckless.

The jury could not reach any consensus on that. And that is why the judge decided to take essentially what is a partial verdict. Seven of the eight counts.

Again the tampering with evidence, all that means is that Jayson Williams, depending on his sentence, will serve probation to a maximum five years. The judge will have to decide whether the charges will run consecutively or concurrently.

Jayson Williams after the verdict leaned over. He kissed his wife, his lawyers putting their arm around his shoulder -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: Debbie, we're continuing to listen to the judge. Let's listen. He may be talking about sentencing.

COLEMAN: ... for that count, May 21, 1:30, Friday afternoon. That will give you enough time to contact your witnesses and we'll set a new date.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, May 21 is the scheduling date.

COLEMAN: Right. Not the trial date. The scheduling date, yes, to give you time...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: May 21 is the scheduling day...

COLEMAN: Right, we'll set a new pretrial conference, we'll set a new trial date. This will give you time to contact your all witnesses, figure out your schedule. And we'll try to set a new date. If it's not resolved...

WOODRUFF: So the judge in the trial saying in a few weeks they will meet again to discuss when they will come together to consider the sentencing that Jayson Williams will stand for the guilty charges here.

Again, guilty, Deborah Feyerick, on the lesser charges of hindering apprehension, tampering with a witness, tampering with evidence and fabricating physical evidence. Still serious charges, but not nearly as serious as the manslaughter and the aggravated assault.

FEYERICK: Absolutely, Judy. Boy, Jayson Williams could have gone away for 30 years if they had found him guilty on the aggravated manslaughter. But it's a difficult charge to prove that somebody acts with extreme indifference to human life especially in this case when Jayson Williams basically said it was an accident. He had the gun and it just went off.

This morning, we heard a lot of testimony essentially on the witnesses who were in or near the room at the time of the shooting of limo driver Gus Christofi. The testimony was read back. It describes how those who saw what was happening simply saw Williams take that gun he had split open and in a single motion almost cock it together and that's when it fired.

Inside the courtroom to give you a little color, during the first charge, as it was read, some people in the audience began booing, and the judge stopped and said, a lot of people have a lot at stake on both sides of this. If you cannot control yourself, we will toss you out. Gus Christofi -- his sister was in court. A young woman next to her broke down and was sobbing.

And as for Tonya Williams, Jayson Williams' wife, she looked very serious, both of them taking this whole thing extremely seriously. Jayson Williams had always been known as sort of a fun-loving guy. But there was no smiling, anywhere near this courtroom when it came to the verdict, when it came to the whole trial. They knew everything was on the line -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: Deborah Feyerick in New Jersey. Now

we want to bring in legal analyst Kendall Coffey from Miami. Kendall, part of what the judge was saying there at the end about that date coming back on May the 21st, I'm now told has to do with the undecided charge of reckless manslaughter. How would that be handled? If this jury couldn't reach a verdict, what's left to be done with that? Is it dropped or what?

KENDALL COFFEY, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: In the normal case, if there were no convictions, of course, the prosecution would proceed with a retrial and it's their choice to proceed with a retrial on that count if they so choose.

But it's a tough call here because he was convicted on some counts. Certainly the aggravated manslaughter has been irrevocably removed from the future exposure of Jayson Williams. So it becomes a difficult question whether they can justify proceeding on a reckless manslaughter count.

When they presented all the evidence, it was a hard-fought trial. The jury couldn't reach a verdict. Did validate what we'll call the obstruction, tampering charges.

So I think an awful lot of prosecutors would -- unless the victim had an overwhelming objection -- would seriously consider saying that the process has been carried through, the decision is made, the jury did not convict on reckless manslaughter and proceed to sentencing.

But close call. And it's really going to be something I think where the prosecutor's office will want to listen to the victim's family before finalizing a decision.

WOODRUFF: Kendall Coffey, are you saying if the prosecutors want to come back on this undecided charge of reckless manslaughter, they've got to start from scratch, a whole new case, whole new jury?

COFFEY: They would have to put a whole new case together or a whole new jury together and go through the considerable expense of replicating most, not all, but most of what they've already taken the system through.

And as to whether you can justify what would obviously be an expensive and painful trial for all concerned, just to get back to the unresolved count say close call, especially if the victim's family finds acceptance in whatever the sentencing is.

I would certainly think that if for any reason Jayson Williams isn't sentenced to any prison at all, the prosecution would want a retrial. But let's say that the judge finds -- he's got, A, prison exposure, that he should serve sometime. Would that be enough to answer the needs of justice? It might be.

WOODRUFF: Kendall Coffey, one last question. Are you surprised at the interesting division on the part of the jury on these verdicts? COFFEY: Well, I think a little bit. But in large part, I think it reflects the fact that once the judge said that negligence is not manslaughter, that was a key victory for the defense with respect to the way the jury was instructed.

Then it really made it a much more difficult case because there really weren't any suggestions as to motive Jayson Williams had for killing him. And it had become a mush more difficult question. And as we've seen so many times, even though the substantive charge of manslaughter wasn't validated, the so-called cover up and obstruction charges, those were the ones that did result in a conviction.

WOODRUFF: Kendall Coffey, legal analyst we often speak with on these cases joining us on the telephone from Miami.

Again, Jayson Williams, the former NBA basketball star found guilty of the lesser charges. Guilty of hindering apprehension tampering with a witness and so forth. But acquitted on the most serious charges of aggravated manslaughter, aggravated assault. And no decision from this jury on the charge of reckless manslaughter. We're going to continue to monitor developments in New Jersey in and around that court. If there are any, we'll go back.

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