Lawyers argue Bryant's right to fair trial at stake

Updated: September 13, 2003, 1:42 AM ET
Associated Press

Kobe Bryant

DENVER -- Kobe Bryant's attorneys asked a judge Friday to close next month's preliminary hearing, saying publicity would threaten the NBA superstar's right to a fair trial on a rape charge. They also accused authorities of secretly recording a statement by Bryant.

The Oct. 9 hearing will determine whether the Los Angeles Lakers guard will stand trial on a charge of sexually assaulting a Colorado resort worker over the summer. He has said the two had consensual sex.

Defense attorney Hal Haddon said the Colorado Supreme Court has ruled that closing preliminary hearings is justified if a defendant's right to a fair trial is at stake.

He also cited an earlier ruling to keep detailed court records in the Bryant case sealed, saying the judge concluded there was "a substantial probability that defendant's right to a fair trial would be prejudiced."

Krista Flannigan, a spokeswoman for the prosecution, declined comment and Bryant's attorneys did not return calls.

Prosecutors and attorneys for the woman are fighting defense requests to have her testify at the hearing in Eagle and to turn over her medical records.

Bryant, 25, is charged with sexually assaulting the 19-year-old woman on June 30 at the Edwards resort where he was a guest and she was an employee.

The prosecution has said it will disclose some of its evidence at the hearing, including testimony from a detective, photographs of injuries to the accuser, a videotaped statement she made to investigators and an "electronically enhanced" version of an interview Bryant gave to authorities sometime after the alleged attack.

Prosecutors have said Bryant's statement backs up some of what his accuser told investigators. The defense sharply criticized how the recording was obtained and said it should be barred.

"The statement is presumptively inadmissible as trial evidence because it is the product of a surreptitious tape recording during the custodial interrogation of defendant without any advisement of his Miranda rights," Haddon wrote.

"The public revelation of this potentially inadmissible statement is a compelling ground for closing the preliminary hearing," he said.

Closing the hearing could benefit both sides by preventing potential jurors from hearing details and forming opinions about the case, Denver defense attorney Dan Recht said.

"It makes sense to me that they're filing this and the argument makes sense to me," Recht said. "It's just that there is no precedent for it in recent memory -- but there's no precedent like the Kobe Bryant case as far as media exposure."

The defense bid to have Bryant's accuser testify will probably be rejected by Eagle County Judge Frederick Gannett, legal experts say. Such hearings typically require only bare-bones evidence against the defendant for a judge to order a trial.

Stan Goldman, a professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, said the hearing has little value for Bryant's attorneys unless the accuser testifies.

"You can't cross-examine a piece of paper that the detective will be reading from," Goldman said.

Earlier Friday, Bryant's accuser joined prosecutors in asking the judge to throw out the defense subpoena seeking her testimony. Attorney John Clune said his client does not want to testify and the defense in Colorado criminal cases has no right to compel testimony from alleged victims during preliminary hearings.

Clune even cited an Eagle County case last year in which attorneys from Haddon's law firm fought a subpoena seeking to force their teenage client to testify in a molestation case.

Attorneys from Haddon, Morgan & Foreman said the defense was on an improper "fishing expedition" and that their client should be spared the trauma of testifying.

Flannigan also said the defense sent out new subpoenas this week -- to the Vail police department, Eagle County sheriff's office, the Best Western Eagle Lodge and the Resource Center of Eagle County, which operates a crisis hot line. She said the attorneys are also seeking telephone records from Verizon Wireless and AT&T.

Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press