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Defense strategy said to be 'nutty, slutty defense'

DENVER -- Shortly after Kobe Bryant's arrest, the strategy his lawyers were pursuing to keep him out of prison began to take
shape: Put prosecutors on the run and shift the focus from the NBA
star to the woman accusing him of rape.

Over the past year, Bryant's defense attorneys have suggested in
court hearings and filings that the woman's behavior before and
after the alleged sexual assault pointed to a false accusation.

"The defense can be characterized as the 'nutty, slutty
defense,' " said attorney Scott Robinson, who has followed the
case.

The aggressive defense has kept prosecutors reacting to a
cascade of filings on everything from media access to the
constitutionality of Colorado's rape shield law to what the jury
can hear about matters typically kept confidential.

The defense hasn't won every skirmish. The rape shield, intended
to protect the privacy of victims, still stands. Bryant's attorneys
weren't allowed to see the woman's medical records, and won't be
able to tell jurors about her two purported suicide attempts in the
five months before her encounter with the Los Angeles Lakers guard.

But jurors can be told about the woman's sexual activities in
the three days before her hospital examination 15 hours after she
was with Bryant. And defense attorneys have said the woman's
decision to file a civil lawsuit allows them to argue that the
woman persisted in her accusation only for financial reasons.

"The name of the case may be People versus Bryant, but the
subtext is People versus Young Woman," Robinson said.

Jury selection is scheduled to begin Friday; the trial is
expected to last four weeks.

Bryant, 26, faces four years to life in prison or 20 years to
life on probation, and a fine up to $750,000 if convicted of felony
sexual assault. He has said he had consensual sex with the woman,
then 19 years old.

Legal experts said the case will turn on whether jurors have
more faith in Bryant's story or the woman's. Anything the defense
can do to chip away at the alleged victim's credibility is a point
in Bryant's favor, said James Cohen, director of the Fordham Law
School Clinical Law Program.

Still, they may be wise to tread lightly if the accuser takes
the stand, Cohen said. Prosecutors have not said publicly whether
the alleged victim will testify, but experts believe it is highly
likely she will.

"Lawyers often make the mistake of treating everybody like
they're [cross-examining] Sammy 'The Bull' Gravano," he said.
"That turns the jury off, and then the sympathy factor turns right
around."

Bryant's attorneys also have not disclosed whether he will
testify, but Robinson said he would not hesitate to have Bryant
tell his story from the witness stand.

"A nice looking, well-spoken, articulate celebrity is worth his
NBA contract in gold," Robinson said. "The jury's going to want
to hear from him."

Recent developments prompted widespread speculation that the
woman might refuse to participate in the criminal case, and that
prosecutors might drop the charges.

Prosecutors voiced concerns about whether Bryant could receive a
fair trial after the judge was forced to release transcripts of a
closed-door hearing in which a defense witness explained why she
believes DNA evidence indicates the woman had sex with another man
after Bryant but before her medical exam. The accuser's attorney
has denied that claim.

After going on national television to criticize courthouse
blunders and question the judge's ability to ensure a fair trial,
the woman's attorneys filed a civil lawsuit against Bryant in
federal court.

While Bryant's attorneys have said the civil suit casts doubt on
the woman's motive, Wendy Murphy, a former prosecutor and a
professor at the New England School of Law, said it might have
turned off a spigot of defense allegations that were harmful to the
woman.

The decision implies the woman's attorneys had damaging
allegations about Bryant that they were prepared to air in the
civil case, she said.

"They filed the suit to prevent the 'poison the well' tactics
that were about to become a poisonous downpour on the eve of the
criminal trial," she said.

In the civil lawsuit, attorneys for the alleged victim accused
Bryant of "attempting to commit similar acts of violent sexual
assault on females he has just met," but they did not elaborate.

Shortly after the civil lawsuit was filed, prosecutors asked the
judge to delay the trial indefinitely and appealed a key ruling
that the woman's sexual conduct around the time of her encounter
with Bryant is relevant to the case.

The Colorado Supreme Court declined to consider the appeal,
which could have put the trial on hold for weeks, and the judge
refused to delay the trial. It is to begin Friday, 13 months after
Bryant was accused of sexual assault.