The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals overstepped its bounds quite a bit in arguing that prejudicial evidence about Jayson Williams killing his dog should have been allowed in Williams’ manslaughter trial.
For those not following this case, Williams is a former National Basketball Association star who is charged with manslaughter in the shooting death of a limousine driver who drove Williams and his party to Williams’ mansion in February 2002. According to witnesses, Williams was showing off a shotgun to guests when the gun discharged while aimed at limousine driver Costas Christoffi. In addition to manslaughter, Williams is charged with trying to cover-up the crime including asking guests to lie to police about the circumstances of the shooting.
Testimony at his trial portrayed Williams as a depraved individual. According to one witness, for example, while Christoffi lay wounded and dying, Williams pressed the shotgun into his hands in order to set up a defense that Christoffi had accidentally shot himself.
That testimony was allowed in, but testimony about an alleged incident in 2001 was excluded as prejudicial. Williams’ former teammate Dwayne Schintzius claimed that in 2001, Williams bet him $100 that he could not get one of Williams’ guard dogs out of the house and onto the porch. According to Schintzius, when he returned a few minutes later with the dog, Williams went into the house and returned with a rifle. He then shot and killed the dog and threatened Schintzius with the gun.
After hearing Schintzius’ claims with the jury in recess, Judge Edward Coleman ruled that Schintzius’ testimony would be overly prejudicial and refused to allow the jury to hear testimony about the alleged incident. The judge apparently agreed with Williams’ defense attorney that putting Schintzius on the stand was simply “a strategic attempt by the prosecution to smear Mr. Williams in the eyes of the jury and deny him a fair trial.”
In response, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals issued a press release in February expressing its disappointment at the judge’s decision. According to the ASPCA,
The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) is shocked by the decision a New Jersey judge has made which bars the submission of evidence that basketball star, Jayson Williams killed his pet Rottweiler at his home in Alexandria, NJ. Williams, who is accused of aggravated manslaughter in the death of Costas Christofi, allegedly shot his pet twice in the head and abdomen just six months prior to the the Christofi shooting.
“There is clearcut evidence which indicates that people who intentionally injure or kill animals are inclined to act violently towards people,” says Dr. Stephanie LaFarge, Director of the ASPCA’s Counseling Services department. “Research has shown that people who are violent toward the family pet as Jayson Williams allegedly was, are more inclined to be violent towards their family and friends.”
What is shocking is that the APSCA would put out such an absurd claim. In fact, it demonstrates exactly why the judge was correct in excluding any evidence about the alleged shooting of the dog — because jurors are likely to jump to the conclusion, as the APSCA apparently has, that if he shot his dog he is “more inclined” to have shot the limousine driver.
Fortunately, in the United States we still judge people based on evidence rather than on studies about possible “inclinations.” The judge in this case was correct — Schintzius’ would have been overly prejudicial and had no business being brought up in his manslaughter trial.
ASPCA Disappointed at Decision of Judge in the Pretrial Hearing of Jayson Williams. Press Release, American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, February 6, 2004.