Sides pushing for late-August trial start

Originally Published: June 22, 2004
Associated Press

EAGLE, Colo. -- Kobe Bryant's closed-door court hearing ended Tuesday without a trial date being set, meaning th earliest that could happen now would be June 30.

Both sides in the sexual assault case say they could be ready for trial by late August.

Bryant, 25, returned to court for the conclusion of a two-day hearing on whether the sex life of the woman accusing him of rape can be used against her at trial. Bryant has pleaded not guilty to felony sexual assault, saying he had consensual sex with a then-19-year-old resort worker at a Vail-area hotel where he stayed last summer.

Several forensics experts were at the courthouse Tuesday, including Henry Lee and Michael Baden for the prosecution. Both men participated in the O.J. Simpson slayings case.

The defense wanted to introduce evidence it said will show the woman had "multiple" sexual partners during the week of her encounter with Bryant.

It has suggested she had a "scheme" to attract attention from an ex-boyfriend and injuries found on her during a hospital exam could have been caused by sex with someone other than Bryant.

Prosecutors say the woman's sex life is irrelevant in determining whether she was assaulted. They have asked the judge to uphold Colorado's "rape shield" law, which generally bars the sexual history of alleged victims from being introduced as evidence.

It will be up to State District Judge Terry Ruckriegle whether the sexual history can be admitted at trial.

Baden, who also worked on the unsolved slaying of 6-year-old JonBenet Ramsey in Boulder, is expected to discuss injuries found on the woman. The defense is trying to bar his testimony, but details of the request are sealed.

Lee, a well known expert in forensics, is expected to be called to counter the conclusions of a defense expert, Elizabeth Johnson, who runs a forensics practice in California.

During Monday's hearing, the sides exchanged sharp arguments over how to instruct the jurors who will decide whether the Los Angeles Lakers guard is guilty of sexual assault. If convicted, Bryant faces four years to life in prison, 20 years to life on probation and a fine of up to $750,000.

The issue of consent has emerged as a key battleground. The defense wants jurors told they can convict Bryant only if prosecutors prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the woman did not consent to sex -- and that Bryant knew it.

Prosecutors said they are required to prove only that Bryant's actions were enough to cause the woman to submit to sex against her will, making the consent question moot.

Ruckriegle did not immediately rule on the jury instructions.

During the preliminary hearing, sheriff's Detective Doug Winters said the woman flirted and kissed Bryant and was attacked when she turned to leave his room. Bryant grabbed her by the neck, pulled up her skirt and raped her against a chair, Winters said.

She told investigators she told Bryant "no" at least twice during the five-minute assault. The detective said she told Bryant at one point she wouldn't tell anyone what happened because "she didn't want him to commit more physical harm to her."

Scott Robinson, a Denver defense attorney who is following the case, said prosecutors were taking an "extreme position" in suggesting her consent does not matter in winning a conviction.

"It seems anathema to our traditional view of what constitutes rape," he said.

The judge took the issue under advisement. He rejected a defense bid to have jurors told they could assume items not collected from the room by sheriff's deputies could have proven Bryant's innocence.

Ruckriegle said the law allows such a jury instruction only if there is proof investigators intended to destroy evidence they knew could be exculpatory. He said the defense can address the investigation at trial.

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press