Defense lawyers who earlier refused to ask for a mistrial for former Tulane basketball player John Williams changed their minds today, asked for a mistrial and got it.
Orleans Parish Judge Alvin Oser scheduled a new trial on sports bribery charges against Williams to start Sept. 9.
Assistant District Attorney Bruce Whittaker said he would appeal the mistrial order.
Defense lawyer Michael Green, who lost a bid to have charges against Williams dismissed this morning, said he asked for the mistrial because of repeated violations of court orders by the prosecution and the possible effects of a long recess on the jury. Oser had ordered prosecutors several times to turn over to him for inspection all evidence, statements, transcripts and the like, so he could determine whether they contained anything that might help prove Williams innocent.
Williams, 24, is charged with three counts of conspiracy to commit sports bribery and two counts of taking bribes to shave points while he was playing at Tulane as a senior last season. He faces a maximum sentence of 17 years in prison and $35,000 in fines if convicted on all five counts.
Green said today that in the preceding 24 hours he had come into possession of a picture of star prosecution witness Gary Kranz posing with a mound of cocaine. Kranz, a Tulane student who allegedly provided basketball players with cocaine and helped arrange the point-shaving scheme, testified for more than four hours Tuesday against Williams. He was originally indicted with Williams and six others in April but pleaded guilty to 10 counts of sports bribery and two counts of conspiracy. Williams is the first defendant to face trial.
Green said he also had learned Wednesday of the existence of tape recordings that could contain conflicting statements by other prosecution witnesses.
"The withholding of crucial pieces of evidence has caused my client to be deprived of his right to a fair trial," Green said. "It hurts me to say that the office of any prosecutor would take a course of action that would force me to ask for a mistrial."
Green asked on Wednesday that Oser dismiss all charges against Williams, but Oser declined to do that this morning.
"We just don't have that vehicle at the trial level," the judge said.
He said that is the sort of issue that is decided by appellate courts, not trial courts.
Tuesday, Oser had ordered a mistrial because of prosecution misconduct, but he revoked that order before the day's session ended.
Today, Whittaker objected to a mistrial, saying he and Green differed on their definitions of what evidence might prove exculpatory.
"We are talking about a photo of a state witness using cocaine -- a witness who admitted on the stand that he used cocaine," Whittaker said. "That evidence does nothing to prove Williams innocent."
Juror John Warrick said that during the two days the jury was locked up and out of touch with the trial, the speculation was that some sort of plea bargaining was going on.
"The defense was way ahead," Warrick said. "If the case goes back to trial, I feel the state has an obligation to prepare a much better case. I don't think they can convict Mr. Williams on the testimony and the manner in which it was presented."
After declaring a mistrial and dismissing the jury, Oser explained that he had only two alternatives once misconduct was discovered on the part of the prosecutors -- grant a mistrial or call a recess.
"That's the only avenue under our law to give him a fair trial," Oser said.
"I have never in my 26 years in the judicial system seen one like this," he said, meaning a mistrial based on prosecutorial misconduct.
As to Williams' future in pro basketball, Jim Havack, a lawyer for the NBA Cleveland Cavaliers, who drafted him this June, said of prospects for signing him: "I have no idea, nor do I have any comment."