Ruling on use of accuser's sex life due next month

Updated: June 22, 2004, 4:46 PM ET
Associated Press

EAGLE, Colo. -- Attorneys wrapped up arguments Tuesday on whether the sex life of the woman accusing NBA star Kobe Bryant of rape can be used against her at trial, ending weeks of closed-door legal wrangling.

The details could be significant if they are admitted as evidence, but more written arguments are due next week. That means state District Judge Terry Ruckriegle won't make his decision until next month.

Bryant left Colorado after a two-day hearing without learning his trial date. Attorneys said they could be ready for trial by late August.

State courts spokeswoman Karen Salaz said 1,000 summonses will be sent to prospective jurors -- four times the usual number and double the record sent out for a 2002 slaying case in the four-county judicial district.

The high number is needed because of the publicity the case has drawn and because of the transient nature of the Eagle County population, home to Vail and other ski resorts. The judge said it is typical for one-third to one-half of those summoned for jury duty here not to respond.

"It all boils down to the intense publicity," said Howard Varinsky, a jury consultant based in Oakland, Calif. "It's nearly impossible to find people who haven't heard of the case & so in voir dire [questioning], you try to find out if they have formed an opinion on guilt or innocence."

He said it is likely many prospective jurors will be dismissed because of bias caused by Bryant's celebrity status.

Bryant, 25, has pleaded not guilty to felony sexual assault, saying he had consensual sex with the woman at a Vail-area resort last summer. If convicted, the Los Angeles Lakers star faces four years to life in prison or 20 years to life on probation, and a fine of up to $750,000.

Bryant's attorneys want to introduce evidence it says will show the woman had "multiple" sexual partners during the week of her encounter with Bryant. They have suggested the woman had a scheme to attract attention from an ex-boyfriend, and that 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 raped.

The issue has been the subject of closed-door hearings dating back to March and took center stage again Tuesday.

Several forensics experts were at the courthouse, including Henry Lee and Michael Baden for the prosecution. Both men participated in the O.J. Simpson slayings case, and District Attorney Mark Hurlbert has said they were expected to testify about DNA evidence.

Baden, who reviewed the autopsy report in the unsolved slaying of 6-year-old JonBenet Ramsey in Boulder, is also expected to discuss injuries found on the woman if he testifies at trial. The defense is trying to bar his testimony, but the details of their request have been 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.

"Their fame is important, but their proven ability to communicate with jurors is more significant," said Craig Silverman, a Denver attorney who is following the case. "They are formidable experts, great communicators and have a track record of success."

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press