A state judge declared a mistrial today in the point-shaving case against former Tulane University basketball player John (Hot Rod) Williams, then reversed himself after meeting with lawyers for four hours.
Judge Alvin Oser of Orleans Parish Criminal District Court had declared a mistrial when the defense said it did not know of a taped statement made by prosecution witness Jon Johnson, a Tulane forward. But Oser told reporters after the meeting with attorneys that he listened to the tape in his chambers and discovered "there was some material on the recording that would tend to help Williams' case because it could show inconsistencies in Johnson's testimony."
Oser then gave Williams' attorneys the choice of accepting the mistrial or arguing against it. Defense Attorney Michael Green refused to do either.
Oser told reporters, "I ordered a mistrial on grounds the state failed to provide the tape. I declared the mistrial to protect his (Williams') rights." He said if the defense had agreed to go along with the mistrial, then Williams could have been retried as soon as the prosecution was ready.
Oser said he was told Green would file a motion Wednesday to dismiss all charges against Williams because of prosecutorial misconduct. Williams, who is charged with two counts of sports bribery and three counts of conspiracy, would not comment on today's developments.
By refusing to accept the mistrial, Green apparently gained a legal avenue for gaining Williams' freedom. If Williams is convicted, Green would have the right at the trial's end to ask an appeals court to overturn the conviction, if the higher court decides the mistrial was incorrectly declared.
Oser said a court reporter will spend several hours typing transcripts of earlier testimony and he will review them to see if more material must be turned over to Williams' attorneys, a move the judge said would delay the trial until at least Wednesday afternoon.
Oser declared the mistrial at about 5 p.m. CDT when he learned prosecutors had not told the court about the tape recording by Johnson. Johnson had mentioned during testimony that he had given a statement to prosecutors in March when he agreed to testify against teammates on the promise he would not be charged.
When Green said he had not been given the tape, Oser did not disguise his fury. He said he had "never seen anything like this" in his 26-year career and, after admonishing prosecutors, stalked out of the courtroom.
Earlier today, there was incriminating testimony against Williams, who Green described as a poor country boy duped into the gambling scheme by wealthy fraternity brothers trying to support cocaine habits.
Clyde Eads, a former player who, like Johnson, was granted immunity, testified point-shaving in the Feb. 20 game against Memphis State was so blatant that players shouted at each other from the bench to miss shots.
Gary Kranz of New Rochelle, N.Y., a student who was part of the point-shaving scheme, testified Williams agreed to cool his hot shooting in return for thousands of dollars.
Williams, 23, is the first of nine suspects to stand trial in the scandal that prompted Tulane officials to drop the men's basketball program.
Kranz and three members of the team are testifying for the prosecution -- Eads and Johnson under grants of immunity, and point guard Bobby Thompson in a plea bargain.
Earlier today, Kranz characterized himself as a reluctant go-between. He said he knew Eads and Johnson and was able to introduce them to Tulane students David Rothenberg and Mark Olensky, who also are testifying for the prosecution under plea bargains.
It was Rothenberg who urged the point-shaving scheme, Kranz said. On Monday, Thompson testified Kranz had been behind the plan.
Kranz had said he became involved when a friend said Eads wanted to obtain some cocaine.
Kranz said he got the cocaine for Eads as a favor, then had Eads get him Tulane basketball uniforms. Eads today denied stealing equipment.
Kranz testified arrangements were made to lose the Feb. 20 Memphis State game by a greater margin than the four-point betting spread.
Kranz said plans were altered during halftime at the Memphis State game when Johnson played well.
The players had agreed to a four-way split of $12,000, Kranz said.
"J.J., who had a bad knee and wasn't expected to play, was having a great first half and Tulane was winning by four to six points," he said.
Kranz said Thompson offered Johnson $1,500 at halftime "because otherwise, we weren't going to be able to do it."
Eads testified, "At halftime, I said -- we were playing really well -- if you're going to do it, you're playing out of your minds. Hot Rod and David said don't worry about it."
Tulane was outscored by 17 points in the second half and lost, 60-49.