Defense targeting accuser's sexual history

Updated: December 18, 2003, 5:12 PM ET
Associated Press

DENVER -- Kobe Bryant's attorneys have spent months on a strategy aimed at gutting the credibility of the woman who has accused the NBA star of rape. This week, they indicated just how far they are willing to go.

Sheriff defends interrogation
Kobe Bryant
Bryant
An interview conducted by two Eagle County investigators with Kobe Bryant after a woman accused him of assault was proper, according to Sheriff Joe Hoy.

In motions made public this week, Bryant's lawyers say evidence that stemmed from that 75-minute interview cannot be used against Bryant because of police misconduct. They said, among other things, Bryant never was informed of his Miranda rights to remain silent and have an attorney.

Defense attorney Hal Haddon said police kept Bryant a virtual prisoner in his hotel room and secretly tape-recorded him in order to get him to make statements.

But Hoy defended Detectives Doug Winters and Daniel Loya, who questioned Bryant on July 2.

"Both of my investigators are top notch, as far as I'm concerned," Hoy said Tuesday.

District Attorney Mark Hurlbert also said he has no "concerns about how the sheriff's office handled the investigation," said spokeswoman Krista Flannigan.

Karen Steinhauser, a visiting professor at the University of Denver, said District Judge Terry Ruckriegle will have to make a decision whether Bryant talked to detectives voluntarily, and that will be a key.

Just what Bryant said is unknown, but defense attorneys also say some clothing seized by officers, as well as the results of tests on blood, saliva and hair obtained from Bryant at the Valley View Hospital in Glenwood Springs, also must be suppressed because it was generated by the interview.

-- The Associated Press
The defense asked the trial judge to toss out Colorado's rape-shield law so they can tell jurors about the woman's sexual history, raising the possibility of a legal fight that could drag on for months.

The 1970s-era law generally bars defense attorneys from talking about an alleged sexual assault victim's sexual history, and it has survived court challenges before. Similar laws are in place across the nation.

Defense attorney Hal Haddon said Colorado's rape-shield law unfairly limits what defense attorneys can do, while prosecutors are allowed to discuss prior acts by a defendant.

A spokeswoman for the prosecution, Krista Flannigan, declined comment on the filing.

"The law has been upheld before, but that doesn't mean defense attorneys won't make another attempt," she said.

Christopher Mueller, a professor at the University of Colorado School of Law, said the main defense to that argument would be that prior criminal acts by the defendant should be treated differently than prior sexual -- and legal -- acts by the accuser.

"This statute doesn't prevent anything from coming in," added Karen Steinhauser, a former prosecutor and visiting professor at the University of Denver College of Law. "It just says that we're presuming that certain evidence is irrelevant, and defense attorneys, if you think some evidence is relevant and has to come in, raise it to the judge before you raise it to the jury."

Defense attorney Larry Pozner of Denver called the rape-shield challenge a sideshow, saying Bryant's attorneys probably don't believe they will succeed.

The main strategy, he said, is to undermine the woman's credibility, and the defense so far is winning that battle after finding information that suggests she tried to kill herself to gain the attention of an ex-boyfriend and her use of an anti-psychotic drug.

"If credibility is the lifeblood of a successful prosecution, this case is bleeding to death," Pozner said.

Bryant, a 25-year-old guard for the Los Angeles Lakers, faces four years to life in prison or 20 years to life on probation if convicted of felony sexual assault. He has said he had consensual sex with the woman when he stayed at the mountain resort in Edwards where she worked.

In court filings over the past week, Bryant's attorneys asked for a hearing on the 19-year-old woman's sexual conduct before -- and after -- her June 30 encounter with Bryant. They also asked the judge to allow evidence that the woman twice attempted suicide and had been treated with an anti-psychotic drug.

The defense also wants the woman's mother forced to testify about her daughter's medical history during a hearing Friday, when state District Judge Terry Ruckriegle will hear arguments on whether medical records and records held by an Eagle County rape-crisis center can be used as evidence.

"They are doing their job," Steinhauser said of Bryant's attorneys. "They are representing a person who is facing life imprisonment and they are filing every motion that can possibly be filed. They're going to make sure that the prosecutors are going to work for that conviction."

Victims' advocates, however, criticized the defense for trying to erode the privacy rights of alleged victims.

"If we were to take their thinking all the way down the road on some of the prior mental health issues, which we don't know are true anyway, that would mean that no person who has ever had a bout of depression or some problems in their life could be raped," said Cynthia Stone, spokeswoman for the Colorado Coalition Against Sexual Assault.


Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press

ALSO SEE