Bias by investigators exists, defense contends

Updated: December 8, 2003, 9:40 PM ET
Associated Press

DENVER -- Suggesting racism may be behind Kobe Bryant's prosecution on a sexual assault charge, defense attorneys asked a judge Monday to help them find out whether sheriff's deputies and prosecution employees ordered T-shirts depicting the NBA star being hanged.

"The information is sought because it is relevant to show the bias of the investigating agencies,'' defense attorney Pamela Mackey wrote, echoing an accusation she raised in the early days of the case. "Bias is always relevant."

The request is the latest salvo in the increasingly abrasive relationship between prosecutors and defense attorneys in the case against the Los Angeles Lakers star.

Bryant, 25, is charged with attacking a 19-year-old employee at a Colorado resort last June. He has said the two had consensual sex.

Officials with the Eagle County sheriff's office have said a company called hangmantees.com gave the office two black T-shirts with a Bryant theme on Oct. 9, the first day of Bryant's preliminary hearing.

One has Bryant's No. 8 on the back with the words, "I'm not a rapist; I'm just a cheater." The other lists the costs of Bryant's trip to Eagle County and ends with, "Not bringing your wife to Colorado with you -- priceless."

Mackey said the shirts have been characterized as racist and "invocative of Klan lynching."

A sheriff's spokeswoman has said the shirts will be kept for the department's archive.

Mackey, however, accused the sheriff's office of ordering 78 of the shirts for employees and for the district attorney's office. She cited unspecified e-mails between the sheriff's office and the shirt vendor.

Sheriff Joe Hoy said Monday that one of his employees corresponded with the company using the office e-mail system, but he would not elaborate. He said the person, who still works for him, was disciplined and is not involved with the Bryant case.

"There's not any bias in any way, shape or form," Hoy said.

Mackey's motion said the district attorney had refused to tell the defense who ordered the shirts.

Prosecution spokeswoman Krista Flannigan said no one in the district attorney's office ordered them, but she would not comment on whether the DA knew who ordered shirts in the sheriff's office.

"We'll deal with it in court," Flannigan said.

In a separate motion, the defense filed a motion asking prosecutors to turn over clothing collected from Bryant and his accuser for independent DNA testing by one of its experts.

Bryant faces four years to life in prison or 20 years to life on probation if convicted of felony sexual assault. He must appear at hearings in Eagle scheduled for Dec. 19 and Jan. 23.

The December hearing will examine whether the accuser's medical records and records from a rape crisis center should be given to the defense.


Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press