As Jayson Williams's trial for manslaughter began to wind down in New Jersey last week, his wife, Tanya, gave birth to a daughter they're calling Whizdom. How the former NBA star came up with the name is hard to say, but it doesn't seem to have been inspired by his defense team. Consider: During opening arguments in me trial, one of his attorneys, William R. Martin, promised jurors that Williams would take the stand and explain what happened in the early morning hours of Feb. 14, 2002, when a loaded shotgun Williams was holding went off, killing limo driver Gus Christofi. That looked like a bold gambit; by testifying, Williams would subject himself to a grilling from prosecutors about the shooting and his alleged effort to cover it up, but he also might send a message that he felt like an innocent man. But then, inexplicably, Williams's lawyers never called him to testify, a shift in strategy not likely to impress the jurors.
By keeping Williams off the stand, his lawyers left themselves little choice but to build their case on the testimony of expert witnesses—which is a risky proposition, considering that the prosecution has its own stable of experts. His attorneys also unsuccessfully argued that the charges should be dismissed because of prosecutorial misconduct. But in denying that motion, Judge Edward M. Coleman gave the Williams team a much-needed break. He ruled that because prosecutor Steven Lember withheld from Williams's lawyers notes and photographs from a report about the shotgun made by a representative of its manufacturer, the defense could recall their expert witnesses to rebut the study. Williams and his lawyers now have one final chance to convince the jury that "debris" left in the gun somehow caused it to fire as Williams snapped the Browning Citori double-barreled 12-gauge closed. Yet even with this extra opportunity, his experts may have too much to explain. The jury, after all, has already heard that the gun was loaded, it was in Williams's hands when it fired and it was aimed point blank at Christofi. A plea bargain is unlikely because prosecutors, who may feel they are in a position of strength, have shown no interest in making a deal. The way things are going, the question may not be whether Williams goes to jail but just how long he spends there.