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Court rules emergency call should remain sealed

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Court rules emergency call should remain sealed

  • A 911 tape will remain undisclosed until it is introduced as evidence in the murder trial of former Nets player Jayson Williams.

Jan. 29, 2003 — An emergency call placed from the home of New Jersey Nets basketball player Jayson Williams after he allegedly fatally shot a limousine driver in February 2002 will not be released to the media prior to the trial, a superior court in Flemington, N.J. ruled Friday.

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.

“The judge in this case totally transformed the law,” Connell said.

Judge Edmund Bernhard ruled that not all requirements were met in order for him to consider the request. He added that more harm would come from immediately releasing the tapes than requiring the newspaper to wait until the tape is introduced as evidence in the case. Bernhard also mentioned that there could be ramifications of the tape’s release on the upcoming jury pool, noting the difficulty of securing an impartial jury. Selection is less than three weeks away.

Connell said that the newspaper plans to appeal, but that the court may release the tape before such an action is considered.

Williams, who is free on bail, 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.

(Media Counsel: John C. Connell, Archer & Greiner, Haddonfield, N.J.) KD

© 2003 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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