|(Zapote, Costa Rica, 22 March 2004) A prosecution ballistics expert conceded at Jayson Williams' manslaughter trial last Wednesday that a wood chip stuck inside the shotgun that killed a chauffeur might cause the weapon to fire without pulling the trigger. New Jersey State Police Detective Sgt. James Ryan admitted under cross-examination that the debris could result in a misfire if it became lodged in the Browning Cittori's firing mechanism known as a sear and hammer.|
'It's feasible,' Ryan said.
The testimony came just hours before the prosecution rested its case and a day after Ryan told jurors that firing range tests showed the gun only discharged when its trigger was pulled. That assertion had seemed devastating for Williams, who insists the shooting was an accident.
Ryan insisted he never saw the wood chip nor any other debris in the sear and hammer when he twice examined the weapon. However, his acknowledgement that an accidental discharge was possible was a clear victory for Williams's defense.
During an aggressive cross-examination, defense lawyer Michael Kelly, the forensic specialist on Williams' five-attorney legal team, also confronted Ryan about warnings issued by the gun manufacturer. Ryan said he knew Browning warned gun owners that the 12-gauge double-barrel weapon sometimes fired if dropped and that its safety did not always work. But he maintained that the warnings did not change his assessment.
'It could malfunction, but during my testing it didn't,' Ryan said.
When he evaluated the weapon the month after the Feb. 14, 2002, shooting of Costas 'Gus' Christofi, Ryan tried to simulate Williams' actions as related by witnesses. Several bystanders said he flicked the gun shut at his waist and it immediately fired.
Kelly accused Ryan of doing a shoddy inspection, adding that he never disassembled the gun to look for debris or mechanical problems. When a defense expert took apart the gun eight months after the shooting, the wood chip and other debris fell out of the weapon.
'Why didn't you run up and tell Mr. Ernest, 'I'm sorry we just ruined some of the evidence,' ' Kelly asked, turning to the jury and shaking his head. Ryan said he was 'just an observer' during the inspection. 'I don't think it was intentional on anybody's part,' he said 'What kind of scientist are you?' the defense attorney barked, prompting Judge Coleman to admonish him and tell jurors that such insulting comments 'made here in court should be disregarded.' The judge reprimanded Kelly several more times for making sarcastic asides and gestures of incredulity toward jurors. The panelists frequently laughed as the witness and the attorney sparred.
When Kelly referred incorrectly to the gun as a rifle and was corrected by the judge, one female juror covered her face and giggled.
At one point in the contentious questioning, Kelly appeared to offer unexpected and perhaps unintentional aid to the prosecution's claim that Williams was reckless when he toyed with the gun with Christofi and others nearby. The lawyer asked Ryan why he hesitated to point the gun toward people in the court when it was unloaded and even outfitted with a trigger lock.
'The number one cardinal rule of firearm safety is treating every firearm as if it is loaded,' Ryan said. 'And that's because every firearm could go off?' Kelly asked. 'Yes,' Ryan said.
Williams, 36, faces 55 years in prison if convicted of aggravated manslaughter and seven other charges.
After prosecutors formally rested their case, the defense filed a motion asking Coleman to dismiss all charges against Williams. In it, defense lawyer Joseph Hayden wrote that in their 36-witness, six-week case the prosecution 'failed to offer sufficient evidence to sustain its burden' of proof.
Coleman gave prosecutors a long weekend to prepare their response and the judge will hear oral arguments on the motion outside the presence of the jury Monday. Such motions by the defense are standard at the end of the prosecution's case in chief, but rarely successful.
'This case has garnered a lot of attention both from legal experts and from gambler's ,' said BetCBSports Senior Odds maker Dan 'The Man' Johnson 'The fact that a former NBA star could possibly go to jail for a long time has brought a lot of action in on the guilty verdict which currently is the favorite a 2-1 odds..'
BETCBSPORTS RELEASE ON THE JAYSON WILLIAMS TRIAL. WILL HE BE FOUND GUILTY AND IF SO WHAT HIS SENTENCE WILL BE:
WILL JAYSON WILLAMS BE FOUND GUILTY ON AT LEAST ONE COUNT
YES -$200 (2:1)
NO +$100 (1:1)
IF JAYSON WILLAMS IS FOUND GUILTY WHAT WILL HIS SENTANCE BE:
ONLY JAILTIME EVEN (1:1)
JAILTIME AND FINES -200 (2:1)
NO JAILTIME JUST FINES +200 (1:2)
PROBATION AND FINES +400 (1:4)
JUST PROBATION +800 (1:8)
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