Jury selection follows three pretrial hearings

Updated: July 18, 2004, 4:40 PM ET
Associated Press

EAGLE, Colo. -- With less than six weeks before jury selection begins in Kobe Bryant's sexual assault trial, only one major question remains for the judge to answer: whether the accuser's sex life can be used against her.

District Judge Terry Ruckriegle has already ruled on key questions about what evidence can be presented to jurors.

He said the NBA star's attorneys cannot have access to the woman's medical records -- though they can question friends and relatives on that topic -- and that prosecutors will be allowed to use Bryant's recorded statements to investigators and some clothes he gave them.

But Ruckriegle has not yet decided whether the woman's sexual activities are relevant to the case. The defense wants to argue to the jury that she had sex with at least one other man in the days surrounding her encounter with Bryant, and that another man could have caused injuries found on her during a hospital examination.

Prosecutors and the woman's attorney have argued the information is irrelevant to the question of whether she consented to sex with Bryant.

"For the defense, it's going to be a critical linchpin to their defense, and I'm assuming they're sitting on pins and needles awaiting that ruling. And I'm assuming for the prosecution as well," said Denver defense attorney Lisa Wayne, who has handled numerous sexual assault cases.

The ruling will significantly affect trial strategy and witness lists for both sides, she said. More than a dozen acquaintances of the woman have testified in closed hearings as Ruckriegle weighs his decision.

"If that evidence doesn't come in, that cuts the number of witnesses in half," Wayne said.

The judge has scheduled three final pretrial hearings before some 1,000 Eagle County residents are called to fill out questionnaires that will help prosecutors and defense attorneys narrow their choices.

A hearing scheduled for Monday will deal largely with peripheral issues, at least while the public is allowed in the courtroom. The judge has not yet detailed what will be discussed at hearings scheduled for July 30 and Aug. 16.

Behind closed doors, however, the judge has scheduled arguments on whether cell-phone text messages and crime victims' compensation records can be introduced as evidence.

Bryant's attorneys want to show jurors text messages sent among the alleged victim, a former boyfriend and an unidentified person hours after her encounter with the Los Angeles Lakers guard last summer.

They also want to give the jury information about money she received from the compensation program. Bryant's attorneys have suggested the woman received unusually large amounts from a board appointed by the district attorney as an incentive to continue participating in the case.

Bryant, 25, has pleaded not guilty to felony sexual assault. He has said he had consensual sex with the then-19-year-old woman at the Vail-area resort where she worked. If convicted, he faces four years to life in prison or 20 years to life on probation, and a fine up to $750,000.

In the public portion of Monday's hearing, attorneys are scheduled to discuss a prosecution request to delay posting court filings on the Internet to give the opposing side time for review. Prosecutors have complained Bryant's attorneys use Internet postings to let sealed information favorable to Bryant slip into the public domain.

John Clune, the attorney for the alleged victim, is expected to try to persuade the judge to halt Internet posting of filings altogether. He has said mistakes in electronic distribution of information have breached his client's right to privacy and endangered her.

In other action, the judge has scheduled arguments on whether to allow still and video cameras in the courtroom during the trial. That issue has presented one of the rare occasions on which the defense, the prosecution and Clune all agree: Cameras should be barred from what promises to be a high-profile proceeding.

Photo coverage, especially live television coverage, could influence jurors and prompt witnesses to be less than candid in testimony involving intimate and potentially embarrassing information about Bryant and the accuser, they have argued.

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press