Jayson Williams Verdict is Criticized

05/03/2004 AT 09:00 AM EDT



Friday's gentle verdicts in the Jayson Williams manslaughter case were met with mixed reactions over the weekend, with some critics dismissing the jury decision as yet another unfair example of celebrity justice.

"If you or I did something like that, they'd put us away for life," Bill Urion, 58, who lives in a modest house near the former NBA star's 65-acre New Jersey estate (with its two lakes and golf course), told The New York Times about his famous neighbor.

Several sports columnists also decried the verdict, and noted that no one was crying for the victim.

After nearly 23 hours of jury deliberations, Williams, 36, was acquitted of the biggest charge against him, aggravated manslaughter, while jurors in the New Jersey courtroom said they were not able to reach a verdict on a separate charge of reckless manslaughter.

The athlete was convicted on other charges, including tampering with evidence after the Feb. 14, 2002, fatal shooting of limousine service driver Costas "Gus" Christofi in front of visiting guests at Williams's New Jersey mansion.

Jurors determined that Williams tried to cover up the incident and make it look like a suicide.

Williams reportedly stood rocking side to side as the verdicts were read, showing no reaction except to lower his eyes slightly as the guilty verdicts were announced, the Associated Press reported.

Williams is likely to be sentenced to less than five years, the maximum for the most serious count, according to legal experts. Several said the sentence could be as light as three years.

No date has been set for sentencing. A scheduling conference to determine a trial date on the remaining count of reckless manslaughter has been set for May 21.

Still, Rutgers University senior Jeff Farrell opined to The Times: "He should have gotten a little more time. ... I think if he didn't have a famous name, he would have gotten a stiffer sentence."

Not that everyone agreed. Sarah Droelle, 18, who attends the same church Williams, said: "I don't think he should go to jail, (but) I definitely think something should be done with his anger problem and with guns. He obviously did not need to do this."

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