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Questioning Potential Jayson Jury

Lawyers planned to question potential jurors one-on-one Wednesday as the selection process moved to the next phase in the manslaughter trial of former NBA star Jayson Williams.

Individual questioning will help to determine if any jurors should be excused for cause, such as being acquainted with one of the lawyers.

Once 60 potential jurors survived that step, each side planned to exercise peremptory challenges, or those for which no reason need be given. The defense has 20; the prosecution has 12.

Superior Court Judge Edward Coleman has said it will take several weeks to choose 12 jurors and four alternates for the trial. The 300-member jury pool is triple the normal size because of the difficulty of finding jurors who will be able to serve through a two-month trial.

Williams, 35, is accused of shooting and killing a limousine driver in his mansion nearly two years ago, then trying to cover up the incident.

The retired New Jersey Nets center faces seven charges, including aggravated manslaughter and witness tampering, that could carry up to 55 years in prison.

Driver Costas "Gus" Christofi was killed Feb. 14, 2002, in Williams' 40-room home in rural Hunterdon County. Christofi, 55, had driven Williams' friends from a Harlem Globetrotters show in Bethlehem, Pa., to a restaurant, then to the 65-acre Williams estate in Alexandria Township.

Two of Williams' guests pleaded guilty to tampering with evidence, one for wiping down the shotgun that killed Christofi and the other for hiding Williams' clothes. Both have agreed to testify against him.

Williams has been free on bail. His defense team has maintained the shooting was accidental.

At the request of the defense, Coleman moved the trial to neighboring Somerset County, agreeing extensive publicity hurt chances for a fair trial in Hunterdon County.

As jury selection began Tuesday, more than 300 potential jurors were sworn in and filled out questionnaires after being introduced to the former New Jersey Nets center, who rose and said "Good morning."

The jury pool is triple the regular size because of the difficulty of finding jurors who will be able to serve through a two-month trial. Questioning of individual jurors is to begin Wednesday, and Judge Edward Coleman said it will take several weeks to choose a panel.

A small number of pool members were excused Tuesday because the trial's length would pose a hardship.

Williams and his wife did not respond to questions from reporters as they arrived at the courthouse.

Williams retired from the Nets in 2000 after a decade in the NBA, unable to overcome a broken leg suffered a year earlier in a collision with teammate Stephon Marbury.

Besides being one of the league's best rebounders, the 6-foot-10 Williams was known for firearms. He wrote in his 2000 memoir that he almost shot New York Jets wide receiver Wayne Chrebet at a range at the Williams estate.

In 1994, Williams was charged with reckless endangerment and possession of a weapon after shots were fired at an unoccupied security vehicle outside the Meadowlands Arena.

He entered a pretrial intervention program and spent a year preaching gun safety to kids. He placed a local newspaper ad in 1995 that read: "Shoot for the top. Shoot for your future. Shoot Baskets, not Guns."

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