Prosecution forges ahead despite latest setback

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

EAGLE, Colo. -- Prosecutors in the Kobe Bryant sexual assault case lost a last-ditch attempt Monday to keep the NBA star's lawyers from telling jurors about the alleged victim's sex life, another in a string of setbacks as the trial date nears.

Without explanation, the Colorado Supreme Court refused to consider an appeal of a ruling by the trial judge that the woman's sexual conduct around the time of her encounter with Bryant is relevant to the case.

The decision came as Bryant's final pretrial hearing got under way. Much of the pretrial hearing was held behind closed doors. State courts spokeswoman Karen Salaz said there still are some questions to resolve on juror questionnaires, but she could provide no more details.

If the justices had agreed to hear the prosecution appeal, the trial could have been delayed for weeks beyond the scheduled Aug. 27 start date.

Prosecutors filed the appeal two weeks after the judge's ruling. The delay, along with prosecutors' unsuccessful attempt last week to indefinitely delay the trial, had prompted widespread speculation about whether they would drop the case.

People involved in the case are prohibited from commenting under a sweeping gag order, but district attorney spokeswoman Krista Flannigan said prosecutors still plan to put the Los Angeles Lakers guard on trial.

Monday's ruling came just three days after District Judge Terry Ruckriegle denied the request to delay the trial. Prosecutors sought the postponement in part because of the accidental release of transcripts from a closed-door hearing, which they called "extremely harmful" to their case.

In the transcripts, a defense witness explained why she believed DNA evidence indicated the alleged victim had sex with another man after her encounter with Bryant but before her hospital exam.

Further complicating prosecutors' task, the 20-year-old accuser filed a civil suit against Bryant in federal court last week.

Defense attorney Pamela Mackey said in a court filing the lawsuit had the effect of "exposing her motivation to pursue her false accusation -- the hope of a large monetary award."

Former prosecutor Norm Early predicted the trial would begin as scheduled.

"I believe she honestly believes she was sexually assaulted," he said. "She's been through an incredible amount of trauma, and now is the time for Kobe Bryant to feel a little bit of trauma. She's never had her day in court."

Bryant, 25, has acknowledged having sex with the woman at the hotel where she worked last summer, but insists she consented. If convicted of felony sexual assault, Bryant faces four years to life in prison or 20 years to life on probation, and a fine up to $750,000.

Meanwhile, U.S. District Judge Richard Matsch ordered attorneys for the accuser to explain by Aug. 30 why they should be allowed to go ahead with the civil lawsuit without publicly disclosing their client's name. The order followed objections filed by attorneys for news organizations who asked the judge to scrutinize the reasoning behind the request.

In a closed-court hearing Monday, prosecutors were scheduled to ask Ruckriegle to reconsider his decision allowing the defense to tell jurors about money the alleged victim received from a victims compensation fund.

The judge's decision could bolster the defense's efforts to undermine the alleged victim's credibility.

The defense has indicated it plans to tell jurors that the woman was given nearly $20,000, far more than usual, for mental health care and other services. Details of their argument were filed under seal.

In an open-court session on Monday, prosecutors suggested they had some concerns about the way DNA evidence was handled. Prosecutor Dana Easter would not elaborate, saying such information should not be made public.

Prosecutors want to take testimony from all laboratory employees who handled the DNA evidence. Defense attorney Hal Haddon said only the employees who conducted DNA testing and analysis should testify.

Ruckriegle told both sides to submit lists of lab employees they want to call as witnesses and said he would decide later who must testify.

The judge granted a defense request to order prosecutors to turn over all evidence and expert opinion that could be exculpatory. Easter said all such material had already been given to the defense.


Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press

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