Discredited Defense of Jayson Williams
6 April 2004–Jayson Williams may be paying for top shelf legal representation, but he’s receiving incompetent representation. In his opening statement, Williams’ criminal defense attorney, Billy Martin promised the jury, “Jayson Williams will tell you what happened that night. Jayson Williams will tell you how this horrific, totally unforeseeable accident occurred.” Throughout his opening, Martin repeatedly told the jury that Williams would be explaining away seemingly inculpatory evidence with the same line, “Jayson will tell you.” Today, Williams asserted his 5th Amendment Right not to testify.
Watching a client like Williams struggling to answer the unanswerable could not have formed part of Martin’s pre-game trial strategy. Criminal defendants usually testify last. The image of a criminal defendant stumbling through unbelievable, if not impossible, explanations for highly damaging evidence are hardly the way to end a case. That was particularly true here when Williams’ credibility would be repeatedly tested by the prosecutor. What helpful testimony could Williams, after all, offer to the question, “Isn’t it true, sir, that following the shooting you ordered your guests to lie for you?” Williams either denies having directed the guests to lie and thereby puts himself at odds with the testimony of several witnesses or admits that he concocted the lie and pressured his friends to lie to the police. No winning answer there.
And while seeing the jurors frowning at a client drowning in his own nasty pool of lies, inconsistencies and incredible denials is painful, listening to the prosecutor dwell on a defendant’s lies may be worse. If the defense puts not a single witness on the stand, the prosecutor spends much of his closing on the defensive, trying to explain to the jury why the inconsistencies, lies and Shenanigans of the witnesses testifying for the government don’t discredit his case. Martin smartly decided against calling Williams to the stand.
Unfortunately for Williams, the jurors will remember Martin’s promise that Williams would testify, especially since Martin repeated that promise again and again and again. The jurors will likely conclude that because the case is going so badly for the defense, Williams lost his nerve. Although a criminal defendant has no obligation to take the stand, Martin will now have to answer for his broken promise. It was a mistake typical of inexperienced trial lawyers, unforgivable for an attorney holding himself out as savvy trial lawyer. What, exactly, can Martin say about his broken covenant that will neutralize the issue for the jury? Further, why should the jury credit anything Martin says after he went back on his promise? When the client is accused of manslaughter and of an elaborate attempted cover-up, the last thing he needs is his criminal defense attorney struggling to answer the unanswerable – why did you break your promise to us?
Kevin J. Mahoney is a Cambridge, MA Criminal Defense Lawyer.