Trial or no? Judge hopes to rule Monday

Updated: October 16, 2003, 2:06 PM ET
Scripps Howard News Service

EAGLE, Colo. -- The prosecution insisted that "uncontradicted" evidence proved that Los Angeles Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant had raped a young hotel worker and should be bound over for trial.

The defense said the "compelling evidence" was that Bryant was innocent, that the prosecution had utterly failed in its bid to establish the threshold for trial.

Bryant's preliminary hearing drew to a close Wednesday with dramatic revelations that appeared to cast doubt on the prosecution's case. Eagle County Judge Frederick Gannett said he will attempt to determine by Monday whether the case will proceed to trial.

With day two of the hearing given over to cross-examination of the sole prosecution witness, Eagle County Det. Doug Winters, Bryant attorney Pamela Mackey methodically elicited answer after answer in casting shadows on the 19-year-old woman's credibility.

Among the points registered by Mackey, all in cross-examination of Winters:

  • The young woman wore underwear containing semen and sperm not belonging to Bryant when she went to Valley View Hospital in Glenwood Springs the day after the alleged assault to be examined by nurses trained in rape evidence collection.

  • That in his interview with the alleged victim, Winters said Wednesday, "I asked her the question, why she had never told him 'No'?" During last Thursday's testimony, Winters testified that the woman had told Bryant no more than once.

  • Winters agreed that the hotel's night auditor -- whose presence didn't come up in the first day of the hearing last Thursday -- had said nothing appeared amiss with his co-worker when she returned from her encounter with Bryant to calmly finish out her shift.

    Deputy district attorney Gregory Crittenden urged Gannett to ignore the line of questioning, and focus solely on Bryant's alleged actions.

    "The defendant hurt the victim that night, and minutes later he sexually penetrated her, hurting her to the point that she bled," Crittenden said.

    "He forcefully sexually penetrated her, and the court has evidence of that."

    And, Crittenden said, "There was blood on her underwear from that night. And there is her blood, on his shirt, from that night."

    Moments before, defense lawyer Mackey tried to convince Gannett that Bryant's case should not be sent to district court for trial.

    "Our heartfelt belief here is that the prosecution has failed in its burden," said Mackey, who said the state had presented "an extremely thin case based almost entirely on hearsay."

    Of the woman Bryant is accused of attacking, a former Eagle Valley cheerleader with one year as a student at the University of Northern Colorado to her credit, Mackey said: "She is not worthy of your belief."

    The rules of evidence are far more relaxed in preliminary hearings than at the trial stage; hearsay evidence is admissible, and Eagle County prosecutors employed it liberally in presenting its case through Winters on Thursday.

    He offered the statement of Bryant's 19-year-old alleged victim, and the analysis of her injuries by a rape nurse examiner.

    Mackey, in her final argument, reminded Gannett he had "warned the prosecution in this case not to put the court in the position of having to decide the case based entirely on hearsay, and that is precisely what they have done."

    When the hearing concluded just 10 minutes after both sides had returned from a lunch break, Gannett expressed his appreciation to the lawyers for the way they'd conducted themselves, "despite the ugly nature of this case."

    Bryant made a quick exit from the justice center as soon as court was adjourned.

    He is free on a $25,000 bond, and with his Lakers two weeks into preseason training, it's the second time he has been forced to leave his teammates and return to Eagle.

    Eagle County District Attorney Mark Hurlbert, elected last December, 34 years old and already handling what could well be the case of his career, faced dozens of media members for a few moments at the hearing's conclusion, limiting most of his comments to clarifying legal procedure.

    Declining to discuss specific points of evidence, Hurlbert said, "No prosecutor does his whole case at preliminary hearing." And, he referred to the Bryant proceedings as a "sanitized version" of the case.

    For example, certain evidence, such as all testimony about an audio-taped interview of detectives' initial questioning of Bryant by hidden microphone the night of July 1, was presented to Gannett in his private chambers, and never heard by those in court.

    "It is not my intent to try this case to the media," said Hurlbert, "but to an Eagle County jury of 12."

    Mackey started afresh Wednesday with questions concerning the alleged victim's recent sexual history, after such questions quickly brought a halt to the opening day of the hearing.

    But she appeared intent on honoring Gannett's instructions to lawyers to "exercise some level of restraint" on the issue.

    Mackey elicited the information that the young woman had had sex with an unidentified man shortly before the night of June 30, the night the woman said Bryant assaulted her, the night Bryant agrees that they did have sex, but that it was consensual. Under Mackey's restrained cross-examination, Winters also admitted that blood, plus semen and sperm not belonging to Bryant were found in the yellow knit panties the alleged victim wore to the Valley View Hospital in Glenwood Springs the day after the alleged assault to be examined.

    That underwear is not the same which the young woman wore June 30, the night of the alleged assault; but investigators have said those undergarments were marked by blood, as well.

    Winters also testified that pubic hair from a Caucasian source was found in the underwear the woman wore to the hospital. He admitted that tests have not yet been conducted to determine the origins of the DNA in that undergarment.

    Speaking of those hairs, Winters said, "It could belong to her. It could belong to someone else. I don't know."

    Mackey asked him, "You know that there are other swabs (in evidence) containing sperm and semen that have not been tested. Correct?" True, Winters conceded.

    The presence of such evidence on the alleged victim or her belongings is important to Bryant's defense team, because it is their contention that such material, plus the multiple small lacerations in her vaginal area may be consistent not with forced sexual presentation, but what they referred to in a motion filed Tuesday as "multiple and recent sexual encounters."

    Mackey, through Wednesday's cross-examination of Winters, established that the detective's interview of the alleged victim left him wondering why she had not said "no" to Bryant more forcefully or clearly, after he allegedly started groping her as they started to hug and kiss in his room.

    The two had ended up there after she agreed to give Bryant a tour of the 56-room resort, where only four rooms were occupied at the time.

    "I asked her the question, why she had never told him 'No'?" said Winters.

    Last week, Winters testified that the young woman has said no to Bryant at least twice.

    Prosecutor Crittenden rose to object, questioning the question's relevance.

    Bryant lowered his head and shook it noticeably, in seeming disbelief.

    At the conclusion of Wednesday's hearing, Winters also stood outside the justice center and answered a few questions from the media.

    "I feel at this time it is complete and thorough," the detective said of the Bryant investigation.

    Asked if there was anything he wished he had done differently, he dodged specifics, saying only, "No case is going to be perfect, the first time around."

    This story appeared in the Rocky Mountain News.