Concerns lead to broader gag order in Kobe case

Updated: August 5, 2004, 8:09 PM ET
Associated Press

DENVER -- It has been a long two weeks for the woman accusing Kobe Bryant of rape.

A key court ruling went against her. Courthouse staff made another mistake and posted her name on an Internet site. The judge lost a battle with the media and released nearly 200 pages of documents from a closed hearing, leading to a barrage of headlines about her sex life. Her attorneys went on national television and hinted she may drop out of the trial.

Legal experts say it all suggests the 20-year-old woman is on the defensive, a potentially key image for the 999 people in and around her small hometown in the Colorado Rockies who will gather for jury selection in the NBA star's trial in just three weeks.

Joseph Rice, a jury consultant with Jury Research Institute in Walnut Creek, Calif., said the developments left the woman's attorneys little choice but to explain why she might try to back out of the case after insisting she wanted justice.

"This lets potential jurors know this case has gone off the rails, it's not her fault, it's a move to generate sympathy for her," Rice said Thursday. "She was supposed to have protection and she is losing that protection."

A few hours after the attorneys' TV appearances, the judge issued a revised gag order and said he was "seriously concerned" that public comment from participants in the case was threatening the chances of a fair trial.

Bryant 25, has pleaded not guilty to felony sexual assault. He has said had consensual sex with the woman, then 19, at the Vail-area resort where she worked last summer. 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 if convicted.

The woman's attorney, John Clune, has said she is in danger in part because of a series of gaffes by state courts officials. Her name has been mistakenly posted online at least twice.

A court reporter also accidentally e-mailed closed-door hearing transcripts to ESPN, The Associated Press and five other media organizations, which this week published the bulk of their contents. The transcripts focused primarily on a defense expert's opinion that the woman had sex with someone after Bryant and before her hospital exam and a defense claim that she is pursuing the case for monetary reasons.

District Judge Terry Ruckriegle apologized in open court for the mistakes. But has also ruled the woman's sex life in the three days before that July 1, 2003, exam can be used as evidence because it is relevant to help determine the cause of her injuries, the source of DNA evidence and her credibility.

Small wonder, legal experts said, that her attorneys suggested she is considering a civil lawsuit and rethinking her participation in the criminal trial. Reporters descended on the Eagle courthouse Thursday, even though prosecution spokeswoman Krista Flannigan said there were no new developments and urged the media not to bother the staff.

How this plays with the jury is unknown. Two weeks ago, Eagle County began sending out 999 summonses to residents, ordering them to show up for jury selection beginning Aug. 27. Potential jurors will be asked to fill out a 115-item questionnaire.

Experts said the questionnaire may have to be expanded to take the recent court mistakes into account.

"Some people are going to side with the victim and say this is unfair, women are supposed to be protected from this," said Beth Bonora, a jury consultant with Bonora D'Andrea in San Francisco. "They might feel sorry for her and resent the fact that her sexual history is being dragged into this.

"Other people are going to be sympathetic to Bryant, calling this proof that she planned this from the beginning and is afraid of the truth coming out."

Former prosecutor Craig Silverman said the decision by Bryant's accuser to go public about problems with the case was part of an exit strategy to give notice that she is thinking about bailing out. He said that would leave prosecutors with a lot of explaining to do.

"It's a bit of a black mark on Eagle County law enforcement if this case is dropped," Silverman said.

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press