Even judge questions prosecution's evidence

Updated: October 21, 2003, 11:03 PM ET
Associated Press

EAGLE, Colo. -- With questions raised about the quality of evidence in the Kobe Bryant sexual assault case, testimony from the NBA star and the woman accusing him of rape may play a crucial role at trial.

Bryant is familiar with the media and has already sat in front of TV cameras and admitted to adultery.

His 19-year-old accuser, however, will have to discuss graphic details of her encounter with the Los Angeles Lakers' guard and be ready for difficult questions from his attorneys _ and may have to do so in front of an international television audience.

"She's had a lot of practice being attacked by the defense already," said Wendy Murphy, a victim's advocate and professor at the New England School of Law. "It helps build thick skin, helps prepare her and limit her anxiety."

Eagle County Judge Frederick Gannett ruled Monday that prosecutors presented enough evidence at Bryant's preliminary hearing to send the case to district court for a potential trial.

But in a nine-page ruling, Gannett said some of the evidence appeared to have questionable value and said prosecutors offered only enough to get the case to trial. Bryant's first appearance in district court is scheduled for Nov. 10.

Until then, legal analysts said, there will be little activity in the case. But they said prosecutors will probably begin preparing the woman for her role.

"It's a fairly long checklist of stuff they're going to have to go through with her, including taking the sting out of the defense case," said David Lugert, a former state and federal prosecutor.

That could mean uncomfortable questions from both sides about her sexual past, mental health and medical history, Lugert said.

Little is known about the accuser, and her identity has not been disclosed by major media outlets, including The Associated Press. Her attorney has not returned calls seeking comment.

Bryant, who is free on $25,000 bond on a felony charge of sexual assault, has said he had consensual sex with the woman. It will be up to his defense team on whether he will testify. If convicted, he faces four years to life in prison or 20 years to life on probation, and a fine of up to $750,000.

University of Colorado law professor Christopher Mueller predicted Bryant will take the stand.

"It's the only positive proof he has that his version of events is true," Mueller said.

During the preliminary hearing, sheriff's Detective Doug Winters testified Bryant and the woman kissed consensually, but the athlete then grabbed her by the throat and raped her June 30 at the exclusive mountain resort where she worked.

Winters said a nurse later found vaginal injuries to the woman consistent with assault and a bruise on her jaw. But he also acknowledged the woman had sex with someone else before her encounter with Bryant.

Some analysts said the defense's suggestion Bryant might have simply aggravated existing injuries on a promiscuous woman was an attempt to intimidate the alleged victim -- and prosecutors.

The strategy could backfire: The trial judge may keep tight reins on defense questioning and the woman's resolve to testify may be strengthened, Murphy said.

The judge who will handle the trial has not been selected. Karen Salaz, spokeswoman for the state courts administrator, said the case will be assigned within a few days.

Unless Bryant waives his right to a speedy trial, the proceeding will be scheduled within six months of him pleading not guilty.


Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press

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