Lawyers follow up after asking for delay

Originally Published: August 11, 2004
Associated Press

DENVER -- Prosecutors have asked the judge in Kobe Bryant's sexual assault case to put the trial on hold indefinitely, saying courthouse gaffes have crippled the chances of seating an unbiased jury and suggesting the accuser is not ready to testify against the NBA star.

After the request was made public Wednesday, prosecutors appealed a key ruling in the case to the Colorado Supreme Court. The appeal, if accepted, could lead to a weeks-long delay even if the trial judge denies the request for an indefinite postponement.

Bryant's Statements Sought
Kobe Bryant
Attorneys for 12 news organizations asked the judge Wednesday to publicly release Kobe Bryant's statements to investigators, saying there appears to be no reason to keep them under seal.

The attorneys said the statements should become part of the public record following District Judge Terry Ruckriegle's ruling to admit them as evidence. In that ruling, Ruckriegle said Bryant became emotional during the interview and "was occasionally crying," but did not provide details.

Bryant was interviewed for more than an hour by two Eagle County sheriff's deputies the night after the encounter last summer. One of the deputies captured the entire interview with a tape recorder in his shirt pocket.

Bryant's attorneys have tried to keep his statements sealed through various means including an unsuccessful motion to bar the recording as evidence. Last fall, County Judge Frederick Gannett said in his ruling ordering Bryant to stand trial the statements were unlikely to bolster the prosecution's case.

"Indeed, the apparent reason for the defendant's continued effort to prevent public access to Mr. Bryant's voluntarily and constitutionally permissible statements can only be the ordinary, run-of-the-mill embarrassment that accompanies any such recording of a person's interview with police," the media filing said.

Such embarrassment is not a valid reason to keep the recording under seal, the attorneys said. They asked for transcripts of the recording, digital copies of the recording and transcripts of any closed-door testimony about the statements.

News organizations involved in the request include The Associated Press, ABC, CNN, CBS, the Vail Daily, The Denver Post, Fox News Channel, The Orange County Register, Los Angeles Times, NBC, The New York Times and USA Today.
-- Associated Press

Most of the appeal -- arguing that the accuser's sexual activities should not be admitted as evidence -- was filed under seal. Prosecution spokeswoman Krista Flannigan declined to comment Wednesday.

Legal experts say the request for a delay could be the first step toward dropping the case altogether now that the accuser has sued Bryant in civil court for monetary damages. They said the civil case will hurt prosecutors because the defense can argue that the 20-year-old woman is simply after Bryant's money.

"If prosecutors are looking for a face-saving way out, this is it," legal analyst Andrew Cohen said.

Jury selection in the criminal case is scheduled to begin Aug. 27, little more than two weeks away. It was not known when the judge might rule on the request.

The legal moves came as the father of Bryant's accuser wrote a blistering letter to District Judge Terry Ruckriegle saying his family had "lost trust that we can obtain a fair trial in your court."

"It has been painfully obvious that you treat the defense as if they can do no wrong and the prosecution and my daughter's attorney as if you have something against them or this case," he wrote in a letter filed with the court on Monday and posted on the Web sites of the Vail Daily and KUSA-TV on Wednesday.

In a court filing made public Wednesday, prosecutor Dana Easter said the recent release of closed-door testimony hurt the chances of getting a fair jury. She also said the judge has not yet decided whether the woman's mental health and medical history will be admitted as evidence, leaving prosecutors in limbo on whether to hire more expert witnesses. Easter also accused defense experts of waiting too long to turn over DNA test results.

Easter singled out transcripts from a June hearing that were mistakenly e-mailed to seven news organizations, including The Associated Press. The media outlets won a court fight with the judge to publish the details, including a defense expert's explanation on why she believes the accuser had sex with someone after her encounter with Bryant and before she was examined at a hospital -- a claim the woman's attorney has denied.

The widely publicized allegation was "extremely harmful" to the prosecution's case, Easter said, and Ruckriegle's strict gag order has prevented prosecutors from responding.

"The release of this information 28 days prior to trial will have the effect of tainting the jury pool and impact the ability of the prosecution to obtain a fair jury at this time," Easter wrote.

Prosecutors filed their request for a delay on Tuesday, the same day attorneys for the accuser filed the civil lawsuit against Bryant in federal court in Denver seeking compensatory damages of at least $75,000 and unspecified punitive damages.

Attorneys for the accuser and Bryant did not return messages. Flannigan declined to elaborate on the filing, but said a trial was still planned.

"We are still moving forward; nothing has changed," she said.

Prosecutors' appeal to the state Supreme Court challenges Ruckriegle's decision to allow details from the accuser's sex life in the three days before her hospital exam to be introduced as evidence. That decision is expected to allow the defense to argue she had sex with someone after Bryant but before the exam. The woman's attorney has denied that claim.

Bryant 25, has pleaded not guilty to felony sexual assault. He has said he 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 if convicted.

Experts said it was unlikely Ruckriegle will agree to a delay at such late notice. Nearly 1,000 Eagle County residents have been mailed jury summonses, witnesses from around the country have been scheduled to testify, and the judge and attorneys on both sides have cleared their calendars for September, said Craig Silverman, a former prosecutor following the case.

"It is an incredible logistical task to reschedule all of this," he said. "What will happen is once the continuance is denied, I would not be surprised if the prosecution throws up its hands and says `Well, then, we cannot proceed."'

Larry Pozner, a former president of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, called the prosecution's moves "a series of Hail Mary passes."

"The prosecution is crying, 'It's the judge, it's the clerk, it's the media, it's the defense,' and the one thing they don't talk about is it's the facts," Pozner said. "This isn't particularly about getting out-lawyered. The prosecution ran out of good facts before the defense ran out of good facts."

The accuser's attorneys last week questioned whether she could get a fair hearing because of court mistakes, and said her best chance to air her side of the story could be in civil court. The woman's name was mistakenly included in filings posted on a state court Web site even before the court reporter's accidental e-mail to the media.

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press