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Defense sets up possibility for settlement

DENVER -- Kobe Bryant will probably be ordered to stand
trial for rape but it remains to be seen if prosecutors have enough
evidence to convict him, many legal experts said.

During a two-day preliminary hearing that ended Wednesday, both
sides showed hints of their strategy. Prosecutors alleged the NBA
superstar forced himself on the Eagle woman while Bryant's
attorneys attacked her credibility.

"This is just the beginning in terms of the evidence and at a
probable cause hearing, you put on the minimal amount of evidence
that you think you need in order to get over the probable cause
threshold," former Denver prosecutor Karen Steinhauser said
Thursday.

"I would imagine there's going to be a lot more coming and
that's why people should not make value judgments at this point in
time on the strengths and weaknesses of the case."

Judge Frederick Gannett hoped to decide by Monday whether to
order Bryant to stand trial on the sexual assault charge. A
19-year-old Eagle woman accused the Los Angeles Lakers' guard of
raping her June 30 at the mountain resort where she worked. Bryant
has said the two had consensual sex.

On Wednesday, defense attorney Pamela Mackey got the lead
investigator to acknowledge the panties the woman wore to the
hospital fewer than 24 hours after the alleged assault had sperm
and pubic hair that did not match Bryant's. Mackey said it
presented "compelling evidence" her client is innocent.

The panties were a different pair than the underwear the woman
said she wore the night she met Bryant.

"I don't think they proved innocence. They raised a series of
questions," said Robert Pugsley, a professor at Southwestern
University School of Law in Los Angeles. "It could conceivably set
the stage for plea negotiations or some type of out-of-court
settlement."

Prosecution spokeswoman Krista Flannigan said Thursday the woman
and her family were doing well. "Her resolve has not weakened,"
Flannigan said.

Bryant has the right to a trial within six months of entering a
plea, but he could waive that right. The defense could appeal a
decision to bind the case over for trial, but legal analysts say
such a move would be unusual.