Letters provide spectrum of views

Updated: August 20, 2003, 11:28 AM ET
Associated Press

EAGLE, Colo. -- Got something to say about the Kobe Bryant case? You aren't alone.

The judge overseeing the sexual assault case against the Los Angeles Lakers star has received at least two dozen letters offering advice on how to proceed. A Jewish grandmother from New York supports Bryant, while a World War II veteran is suggesting lie detector tests for everyone involved -- on national television.

The letters aren't part of the official court record but they are good reading. Legal experts also say there is an outside chance the defense could cite them if they ask the judge to move the trial.

Larry Pozner, a former president of the Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, said he doubts Eagle County Judge Frederick Gannett is even reading the letters, which are common in high-profile cases. He said judges must remain unbiased and wait to learn about the case based on evidence presented in court.

"The American justice system is not a participatory event," Pozner said Tuesday. "You don't get to vote. This isn't 'American Idol.'"

Bryant, 24, was charged with a single felony count of sexual assault after a 19-year-old employee at an Edwards resort said he raped her there June 30. Bryant, who faces an Oct. 9 preliminary hearing, has said the two had consensual sex.

The letters sent to the judge include two from media outlets requesting interviews, while a man from San Antonio simply asked Gannett for a couple of autographed business cards.

Then there is the 35-page packet that includes newspaper stories about the unsolved JonBenet Ramsey murder case sent by Fleet and Priscilla White of Boulder. The former Ramsey family friends encouraged Gannett to punish anyone who leaks information about the case.

No letters expressed outright support for Bryant's accuser but the veteran, Robert Spring of Polk, Ohio, said the reports of her alleged emotional problems shouldn't make a difference if she was raped. John B. Thompson, a lawyer from Coral Gables, Fla., wrote to say he was worried for the woman's safety because of all the media attention.

Those taking a side in the case came out largely in support of Bryant.

Jamie Carlson, an NBA fan from Fort Collins in her late 20s, said she admired Bryant for his behavior on and off the court and blamed the media for making him into someone he's not.

"People are innocent until proven guilty and it seems to be that way unless it concerns someone with a lot of success," she wrote.

The self-described Jewish grandmother, Yaffa Schlesinger of Forest Hills, N.Y., sent a short postcard summing up the case as "rape hysteria."

"History will be your judge. Do not destroy Kobe Bean Bryant," she wrote.

Emily Consiglio of Prescott Valley, Ariz., said Bryant's accuser should not have socialized with guests, especially famous ones.

The letters also included allegations of racism. A copy of a story about the Bryant case was sent with the words "All black people are LIARS!" typed on top. It was not signed.

Another letter, signed "Jesus Christ, the Black Messiah," alleged that Bryant was being targeted because he is black. Last week, a white supremacist group cited the case after leaving fliers around this mountain town telling whites not to have sex with blacks.

If Gannett receives letters from Eagle County residents, Pozner and Denver criminal defense lawyer Craig Silverman said defense lawyers could possibly use them to show the effect of publicity in the case if they ask for the trial to be moved.

No such letters were included in those released to the public.

Krista Flannigan, a spokeswoman for District Attorney Mark Hurlbert, said letters that discuss the details of the case or provide evidence would not be released. She would not say whether any such letters have been received.

Gannett has forwarded all the letters he has received to both the district attorney and Bryant's lawyers to remain fair to both sides, Flannigan said.

"As long as this case is kept in the public eye, people are going to feel a need to express their opinions," she said.


Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press

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