By Samantha Henry
SOMERVILLE, N.J. – Former basketball star Jayson Williams pleaded guilty last Monday to aggravated assault for accidentally killing a limousine driver in his bedroom, finally closing one notable chapter in his troubled post-NBA life.
Williams was awaiting retrial on a reckless manslaughter count but pleaded guilty to the lesser count for the 2002 death of Costas Christofi.
The guilty plea to the assault charge carries a minimum 18-month sentence because a gun was involved. The more serious charge of reckless manslaughter carries a maximum 10-year prison sentence.
Last week, Williams was charged with drunken driving after crashing his SUV into a tree in New York.
Williams was acquitted in 2004 of aggravated manslaughter and convicted of trying to cover up the crime. The jury deadlocked on a reckless manslaughter count and a retrial on that charge was due to start this week.
Witnesses testified during the trial that Williams was showing off a shotgun in his bedroom when he snapped the weapon shut and it fired, hitting Christofi in the chest. They also testified that Williams initially put the gun in the dead man’s hands and told witnesses to lie about what happened.
The defense maintained the shooting was an accident and that Williams panicked afterward.
Years of legal sparring followed the trial.
In November, it appeared a plea deal had been reached, but was indefinitely postponed at the last minute. His lawyers asked to be removed from his defense.
Williams had been free on bail since the February 14, 2002, shooting. He paid more than $2 million in 2003 to settle a wrongful death lawsuit filed by Christofi’s family.
Williams, 41, played nine seasons with the Philadelphia 76ers and New Jersey Nets before a leg injury forced him to retire in 2000. He was in the second year of a six-year, $86 million contract.
He became an NBA analyst for NBC but was suspended after Christofi’s shooting. 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 last 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.
Williams’ father, E.J., with whom he owned a construction business, died in South Carolina in November.
Last week, he was charged with drunken driving after crashing his SUV into a tree in New York. He was in the passenger seat when officers arrived, and he told them someone else had been driving, according to police. But witnesses told police they saw him in the driver’s seat, and officers said no one else was in the car. He is due back in a Manhattan court March 3rd on that charge.