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THE TULANE POINT-SHAVING CASE: SCORE ONE FOR THE DEFENSE
As Hurricane Danny threatened the Louisiana coast last week, another storm raged in Room 209 of the New Orleans Criminal Court Building. Former Tulane basketball center John Williams, 24, was on trial on two counts of sports bribery and three counts of conspiracy for his alleged role in point-shaving schemes involving three games last season. But on Thursday afternoon, four days into the trial, Judge Alvin Oser granted a defense motion for a mistrial, accusing the state, which he had previously admonished for withholding evidence from Williams's lawyers, of "repeatedly and intentionally" goading the defense into asking for a mistrial. The abrupt end to the turbulent proceedings raised the possibility that the case against Williams might never be reopened.
The specter of such a development dismayed the prosecution, which had lined up a parade of witnesses against Williams and procured what it said was a videotaped confession from him. "Our case couldn't have been much better," a source in the D.A.'s office said. "But now it's blowing up in our faces."
Before the six-member jury was impaneled, one state witness, former Green Wave guard Bobby Thompson, who had pleaded guilty in a plea-bargain deal, had given Oser his account of the fixes. Once the trial began, Mark Olensky, David Rothenberg and Gary Kranz, the Tulane students accused of masterminding the fixes, gave their versions of what happened, as did two more of Williams's former teammates, Clyde Eads and Jon Johnson.
Kranz testified that after a game with Southern Miss, which Tulane, a 10�-point favorite, won 64-63, Williams talked openly of point-shaving. "John said, 'I could miss a foul shot here or pick up a foul there and Coach [Ned] Fowler would set me down,' " said Kranz. Eads told of approaching Williams with the point-shaving scheme on Feb. 2, the day of the game. Williams, he said, agreed to go along. During cross-examination Williams's attorney, Michael Green, tried to show that his client had been framed.
As the trial proceeded, the state's case collapsed under the weight of delays, legal wrangling, mistrial and dismissal motions and, not least, the prosecution's dubious conduct. At one point prosecutors were forced to admit that a taped statement by Johnson had never been given to defense lawyers as required. Angered by that and other prosecution transgressions, Oser said, "I have never in 26 years seen anything like this case."
The prosecution's troubles had actually begun when Assistant D.A. Eric Dubelier was disqualified from trying the case because he had witnessed Williams's alleged taped confession. The case was reassigned to Assistant D.A.s Bruce Whittaker and Jim Williams, who are more conversant with homicide and narcotics cases. "We've only worked two weeks full-time on the case," said Williams. Another prosecution source said, "We're talking unprepared."
After the mistrial was declared, one juror, Armand Lagarde Sr., said he and his fellow jurors had been leaning 5-1 toward acquittal—although, of course, they had heard testimony from only some of the scheduled witnesses. "The prosecution just didn't present enough evidence that Hot Rod Williams committed any type of offense," Lagarde said. "It appeared like an entrapment."
Even if Williams is spared a retrial, his basketball future is uncertain. Cleveland picked him in the second round of the NBA's June draft. If the Cavaliers don't make Williams an offer by Sept. 5, he'll become a free agent. The club says it is awaiting league clearance before opening any negotiations. As for Williams, all he would say was "I'm going to get myself in shape."
THE HORFORD AFFAIR