Delay denied; rulings limit evidence

Updated: August 25, 2004, 9:51 AM ET
Associated Press

DENVER -- Jury selection in the Kobe Bryant sexual assault case is still on track to begin this month after the judge denied prosecutors' request for an indefinite delay in the trial.

The state, however, won a partial victory Friday when District Judge Terry Ruckriegle handed down two other rulings that limit or prohibit potentially damaging testimony about the accuser's mental health, purported suicide attempts and use of any drugs or alcohol.

Bryant, 25, has pleaded not guilty to felony sexual assault and has said he had consensual sex with the 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.

Legal analysts say the favorable rulings could be of little use because an earlier ruling allows the defense to introduce evidence about the woman's alleged sexual activity around the time of her encounter with Bryant. Prosecutors have appealed that ruling to the Colorado Supreme Court.

"Keeping out her drug or alcohol or psychiatric records doesn't give you another good fact; all it does is say there's some bad facts that aren't going to come in," said Larry Pozner, former president of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.

"It would have helped the defense to win it, but it's not critical."

In another development that complicated prosecutors' task, attorneys for the accuser filed a civil lawsuit against Bryant in federal court earlier this week. Defense attorney Pamela Mackey said in a filing made public Friday that the lawsuit showed the woman was pursuing a false allegation in "the hope of a large monetary award."

Prosecution spokeswoman Krista Flannigan declined to comment on Friday's rulings, citing a gag order. She said prosecutors planned to go to trial as scheduled. Jury selection is scheduled Aug. 27.

A transcript of a closed-door hearing, which prosecutors called "extremely harmful," contains testimony from defense witness Elizabeth Johnson on why she believed the woman had sex with another man within 15 hours after her encounter with Bryant.

Prosecutors had cited the release of the transcript as a reason for delaying the trial. They said the testimony, combined with a gag order preventing them from rebutting it, threatened the chances for a fair trial.

A court reporter had accidentally e-mailed the transcript to seven news organizations, and Ruckriegle tried unsuccessfully to prevent its publication.

Ruckriegle, however, said he saw no merit to prosecutors' argument that the transcript's release should prompt a delay. He said none of the information in the transcript had been ruled irrelevant or inadmissible.

Ruckriegle also noted that the woman's attorneys "embarked upon a media campaign," commenting on the merits of the case and criticizing courthouse mistakes that led to the release and the accidental posting of the woman's name on a state court Web site.

So much information about the case has already been reported in the media that publicity about the transcripts does not justify a delay, the judge said.

Former prosecutor Karen Steinhauser said prosecutors now must ensure that the accuser is still willing to press the criminal case.

"If she isn't -- and isn't committed to testify, I don't think they have a chance for winning this case," she said.

Attorney Scott Robinson said Ruckriegle's decision to exclude information about the woman's mental health could encourage her to continue.

"The prosecution's case was extremely weak as it was," he said. "They need every break they can get, and this is definitely a break."

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press