A six-member jury today unanimously declared John (Hot Rod) Williams innocent of all five counts of a sports bribery scheme that caused Tulane University to abandon its men's basketball program and kept Williams' professional basketball career on hold for a year.
The verdict, after 2 1/2 hours of deliberation on the sixth day of the trial, apparently clears the way for Williams to pick up his pro career. He was drafted last year by the Cleveland Cavaliers, who said yesterday he had signed a contract with the club. Cavaliers owners George and Gordon Gund have paid Williams' legal expenses.
"I feel great," said Williams, 24. "I feel like I can go on and do the things I want to do in life."
Williams was accused of scheming with eight others to shave points off Tulane's score in games against Southern Mississippi, Memphis State and Virginia Tech and of actually carrying out the scheme against Southern Mississippi and Memphis State in February 1985.
Tulane, a 10-point favorite, won by one point over Southern Mississippi. As a four-point underdog to Memphis State, Tulane lost by 11.
Williams played last season for the Rhode Island Gulls of the U.S. Basketball League.
Among those who testified against Williams were three former teammates, forwards Clyde Eads and Jon Johnson, testifying under grants of immunity, and substitute point guard Bobby Thompson, testifying under a plea bargain.
Williams faced a total of 17 years in prison and $35,000 in fines if convicted on all counts.
Prosecutors said three fraternity brothers concocted the scheme to shave points. The three are Gary Kranz, 22, of New Rochelle, N.Y.; Mark Olensky, 22, of Fair Lawn, N.J., and David Rothenberg, 23, of Wilton, Conn. -- all Tulane students at the time, none of them athletes. All testified under plea bargains.
Thompson, Williams and starting point guard David Dominique were brought into the scheme, and Thompson took over as the organizer, the prosecution said.