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Appeals court releases tape of emergency call

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Appeals court releases tape of emergency call

  • A 911 tape of a call made by the brother of former Nets player Jayson Williams was released after a state appeals court said it should be made public.

March 21, 2003 — An emergency call placed by from the home of New Jersey Nets basketball player Jayson Williams after he allegedly fatally shot a limousine driver was released Thursday to a newspaper after a state appeals court in Trenton said it should be made public immediately. The call was placed by Williams’ brother, Victor Williams.

The ruling overturns a decision by a superior court in Flemington, N.J., which ruled in January that the tape would not be released before Williams’ trial.

The (Bridgewater) Courier-News requested the audio tape in July 2002 under the state’s open records law, but the Hunterdon Prosecutor’s Office argued to keep it sealed as part of a criminal investigation.

According to John C. Connell, attorney for the newspaper, the prosecutor denied the request based on a procedural standard that is not usually applied to requests for materials considered public record.

But the appeals court found that the prosecution did not prove that releasing the tape would interfere with Williams’ trial.

“We repeatedly asked defendant’s counsel for specific evidence supporting this assertion. None was proffered. Under OPRA, a public agency seeking to restrict the public’s right of access to government records must produce specific reliable evidence sufficient to meet a statutorily recognized basis for confidentiality. Absent such a showing, a citizen’s right of access is unfettered,” the court wrote in its opinion. “A court must be guided by the overarching

public policy in favor of a citizen’s right of access. . . . Here, defendant’s fears of potential juror confusion are purely speculative and fail to meet the statutory burden of proof.”

Williams is charged with first-degree manslaughter in the shooting death of Costas “Gus” Christofi on Feb. 14, 2002. He also faces charges of reckless manslaughter, aggravated assault, three counts of hindering apprehension, and tampering with a witness.

The newspaper published a transcript of the call Thursday.

(Courier News v. Hunterdon County Prosecutor’s Office; Media counsel: John C. Connell, Archer & Greiner, Haddonfield, N.J.) JL

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