Trial date to be set after evidentiary hearings end

Updated: May 12, 2004, 5:55 PM ET
Associated Press

EAGLE, Colo. -- As the parents of his accuser looked on, Kobe Bryant pleaded not guilty to a rape charge that was brought against him almost a year ago.

Kobe Bryant
Judge Terry Ruckriegle advises Kobe Bryant and his attorneys of the charges against him before Bryant entered a plea of not guilty.

At the end of a two-day hearing Tuesday, Bryant stood with his hands clasped in front of him. He spoke only four words during a brief arraignment on the felony count that could send him to prison for life.

"Yes, sir," the NBA star said, bending his 6-foot-6 frame slightly to speak into a microphone when asked if he understood the charge and potential penalty. Asked for his plea, he said, "Not guilty," and then sat down.

District Judge Terry Ruckriegle adjourned the hearing moments later, saying he expected to set a trial date during a May 27 hearing. Bryant left, with plenty of time to fly back to Los Angeles for Tuesday night's playoff game against San Antonio. He scored 42 points in the Lakers' 98-90 victory that evened the series at 2-2.

The trial must be set within six months unless Bryant waives that right. Both sides have told the judge a trial would take two to three weeks.

The parents of the 19-year-old accuser watched from the gallery, sitting about 20 feet from the Los Angeles Lakers star. As they walked out of the courtroom, they smiled and nodded at acquaintances.

The woman, who made a surprise appearance Monday to watch pretrial arguments, was not in attendance Tuesday.

Bryant, 25, has said he had consensual sex with the woman last summer at the Vail-area resort where she worked. If convicted of felony sexual assault, the Los Angeles Lakers guard would face four years to life in prison or 20 years to life on probation.

The last time Bryant spoke in open court was Aug. 6, when he said "No sir" when asked whether he objected to giving up his right to have a preliminary hearing within 30 days.

Key issues remain unresolved before there can be a trial.

Earlier Tuesday, attorneys argued behind closed doors on a defense motion to use the alleged victim's sexual history against her. The defense contends injuries found during a hospital examination could have been caused by other sexual partners.

The defense also wants Bryant's statements to authorities, a T-shirt stained with the woman's blood and Bryant's hospital exam barred as evidence because of alleged missteps by authorities.

Attorneys are even bickering over whether the woman can be referred to as a "victim." State sexual assault law defines anybody alleging sexual assault as a victim, but defense attorney Hal Haddon said the woman should be referred to either by name or as the "accuser" or "alleged victim."

In court filings released Tuesday, prosecutor Mark Hurlbert and the accuser's attorney, John Clune, dismissed the defense's claims.

"The defense argument that the jury would be swayed by the use of the word 'victim' presupposes that the people of Eagle County are so mentally deficient that they cannot follow the presumption of innocence," Hurlbert said.

Other issues still pending include arguments on jury selection and a defense motion to strike the state's rape shield law as unconstitutional. Ruckriegle took arguments on those topics under advisement.

The quick pace of this week's pretrial hearing prompted the cancellation of a court session scheduled for Wednesday.

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press