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State v. Williams

September 30, 2008

STATE OF NEW JERSEY, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
JAYSON S. WILLIAMS, DEFENDANT-RESPONDENT.



On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Hunterdon County, Indictment No. 03-03-0044.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Parker, J.A.D.

RECORD IMPOUNDED

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

APPROVED FOR PUBLICATION

Argued May 14, 2008

Before Judges Wefing, Parker, and Kestin.

On leave granted, the State appeals from two orders entered on December 14, 2007. One order required the State to produce certain information for in camera inspection and then to produce certain information to defendant. The second order required that two items identified in the sealed record be disclosed to defendant and that the remaining information in the sealed record need not be disclosed.

We briefly summarize the history of this matter to give context for our discussion of the issues raised on appeal. The charges against defendant, Jayson Williams, arose on February 13, 2002 when he hired a limousine to drive him and some friends to a Harlem Globetrotters game. State v. Williams, 190 N.J. 114, 118 (2007). After the game, defendant invited a number of the Globetrotters out for dinner with him and his friends. Ibid. The group left the restaurant at about 1 a.m. and were driven to defendant's home. Id. at 19. The limousine driver, Costas "Gus" Christofi, joined the group in defendant's home after they arrived. Ibid. At some point, defendant removed a shotgun from a cabinet in his bedroom and "wielded" it in Christofi's direction. The gun went off and Christofi was shot in the chest and killed. Ibid.

Five of the witnesses to the shooting testified at trial that defendant attempted to conceal his involvement in Christofi's death by cleaning the fingerprints off the gun and placing it in Christofi's hands. Id. at 119-20. Defendant removed his blood-stained clothing and told his friends, "to lie to the police by reporting that Christofi committed suicide." Id. at 120.

Ultimately, defendant was charged with aggravated and reckless manslaughter, N.J.S.A. 2C:11-4(a)(1) and (b)(1); possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose, N.J.S.A. 2C:39-4(a); aggravated assault, N.J.S.A. 2C:12-1(b)(4); hindering apprehension, N.J.S.A. 2C:29-3(b); tampering with a witness, N.J.S.A. 2C:28-5(a); tampering with evidence, N.J.S.A. 2C:28-6(1); and fabricating physical evidence, N.J.S.A. 2C:28-6(2). Williams, supra, 190 N.J. at 117. In 2004, defendant was tried and found guilty on all counts related to his post-shooting conduct--tampering with a witness, tampering with evidence, fabricating evidence and hindering apprehension. Ibid. The jury acquitted defendant of aggravated manslaughter, possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose and aggravated assault. The jury could not, however, reach a verdict on the reckless manslaughter charge and a mistrial was declared on that count.

In 2007, when the State announced its intention to retry defendant on the reckless manslaughter charge, defendant moved to "exclude evidence of his conduct immediately after the shooting," arguing that "his post-shooting conduct is irrelevant to whether he acted recklessly at the time of the shooting, and that the evidence is unduly prejudicial." Id. at 117. The trial court granted defendant's motion. We granted the State's motion for leave to appeal and affirmed in an unreported decision. The Supreme Court reversed, holding "that the consciousness of guilt evidence is relevant to defendant's mental state at the time of the shooting for which he is charged with reckless manslaughter." Id. at 118, 134.

On October 18, 2007, the Hunterdon County Prosecutor advised the trial court that "[p]rior to the commencement of defendant's trial [in 2004], allegations of improper conduct were made against a superior officer by another employee of the prosecutor's office. One allegation in particular concerned that officer's use of a racial epithet to describe defendant during a meeting within the office."

Pursuant to Rule 3:13-3, defendant immediately demanded information regarding the employee and the circumstances surrounding the employee's use of the "racial epithet." The State opposed the discovery request and defendant moved to compel discovery. The matter was argued on December 13, 2007. On December 14, 2007, the trial court entered an order requiring the State to furnish to the court for in camera inspection:

1. Each and every document pertaining to the complaint made by an "employee of the prosecutor's office" against the "superior officer" who used "a racial epithet to describe" Mr. Williams, including but not limited to all documents contained in an investigatory or disciplinary file.

2. The complete personnel file of the "superior officer" within the Hunterdon County Prosecutor's Office who used "a racial epithet to describe" Mr. Williams, as well as all other documents pertaining to that individual's employment by the Hunterdon County Prosecutor's Office.

The order further required that the State produce directly to the defense:

1. The identity of all individuals present at the "meeting within the office" at which the "superior officer" used "a racial epithet to describe" Mr. Williams;

2. All notes and documents relating in any way to the issues discussed during the "meeting within the office" of the Hunterdon County Prosecutor at which the "superior officer" used "a racial epithet to describe" Mr. Williams.

Finally, pursuant to Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83, 83 S.Ct. 1194, 10 L.Ed. 2d 215 (1963) and Giglio v. United States, 405 U.S. 150, 92 S.Ct. 763, 31 L.Ed. 2d 104 (1972), the order required the State to review the files of all officers and prosecutors involved to determine whether there was any additional material that was exculpatory or could be used to impeach the State's ...


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