Iowa man threatened her life

Updated: July 16, 2004, 5:41 PM ET
Associated Press

DENVER -- A federal judge sentenced an Iowa man to four months in federal prison Friday for leaving a profanity-laced death threat on the answering machine of the woman accusing NBA star Kobe Bryant of rape.

John Roche, 23, of Davenport, Iowa, had pleaded guilty to making a threatening phone call across state lines after a day of drinking with friends. He faced up to six months in prison and a $10,000 fine under sentencing guidelines.

"I am extremely sorry for what I did," Roche told the judge, who fidgeted nervously at times during the hearing.

The former University of Iowa student was fined $1,000 and will be under two years of supervised release when he leaves prison. The parents of the accuser watched the hearing; Roche's mother wept at the sentence.

Prosecutors said Roche left the message last July 27, threatening to use a coat hanger to assault the woman and repeatedly vowing to kill her. It was one of a number of death threats her attorney says she has received since accusing the Los Angeles Lakers basketball star of assault.

Assistant U.S. Attorney General James Allison likened the profane message to a "verbal gang rape" of someone who has become a target for simply reporting an alleged crime. The woman's mother told U.S. District Judge Walker Miller the threat was so graphic and cruel the family believed the man would follow through on it.

"My daughter is dealing with the trauma of sexual assault and this exacerbates that trauma," the mother said. The woman's parents said later through a spokeswoman that they sympathize with Roche's family.

Roche's lawyer, Nathan Chambers, said his client was "drunk out of his mind" when he left the message and was genuinely remorseful when he realized what he had done. He said Roche, arrested three times for public drunkenness, has a problem with alcohol.

Chambers argued his client was unfairly singled out because another man found the woman's name and number on the Internet and actually made the call. He and a third man also left messages, the attorney said.

Chambers questioned whether prosecutors would have pursued the case if it weren't associated with Bryant.

"We're here because of the case in Eagle County Court," Chambers said. "He committed his offense within the context of the Kobe Bryant case."

That argument drew strong reactions from the prosecutor and judge.

"Roche picked a notorious case to become involved with" and he undermined the justice system by threatening an alleged victim, Allison said.

Prosecutors said the other two men who called the woman's home from an Iowa bar didn't violate federal law because they didn't make threats. The judge said Roche's crime represented "a direct assault on our attempt to fairly resolve matters in the court system."

When Miller announced the sentence, Roche's mother cried and held her head.

"We love and pray for our son," said Pat Roche, as she and her husband, John, waited to see their son after the hearing.

The judge ranged from admonishing the young man to giving him a pep talk. He acknowledged Roche had virtually no criminal history, strong support from his family and a lot of potential.

The judge, however, voiced concern about Roche's substance abuse problem. He noted Roche tested positive for cocaine while on bond awaiting sentencing.

"I do have optimism that you will learn from this, but I want to emphasize that a lot of people do ruin their lives with alcohol and drugs," Miller said.

Roche must report to the minimum-security federal prison in Yankton, S.D., on Aug. 16. Chambers declined comment when asked if he will appeal the sentence.

Bryant, 25, faces a trial in Eagle next month on a charge of felony sexual assault. He has pleaded not guilty, saying he had consensual sex with the woman at a Vail-area resort about a month before Roche's threat.

In a separate case, California bodybuilder Patrick Graber was sentenced to three years in jail after pleaded no contest to a theft charge.

Authorities said he offered to kill Bryant's accuser for $3 million, but dropped charges of solicitation to commit murder and solicitation to dissuade a witness. The Swiss native is expected to be deported after his release.

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press