Prosecution's DNA challenge survives despite timing

Originally Published: August 26, 2004
Associated Press

EAGLE, Colo. -- On the eve of Kobe Bryant's rape trial, a frustrated judge chastised prosecutors Thursday for waiting until the last minute to challenge DNA evidence the defense says shows the accuser had sex with someone else hours after her encounter with the NBA star.

In an often testy exchange, Judge Terry Ruckriegle told prosecutors he should deny their request for a hearing because it was likely to delay the trial, which begins Friday with jury selection. But he gave them until Tuesday to provide more information to help him make his decision.

Later Thursday, the judge held a closed-door session with prosecutors and defense attorneys to discuss the 82-item questionnaire that prospective jurors will fill out. About 500 prospective jurors are expected to arrive at the Eagle County courthouse Friday; opening statements are not expected before Sept. 7.

Bryant, 26, has pleaded not guilty to felony sexual assault, saying he had consensual sex with the then-19-year-old employee of a Vail-area resort where he stayed last summer. If convicted, the Los Angeles Lakers star faces four years to life in prison or 20 years to life on probation.

Prosecutor Dana Easter told Ruckriegle that DNA test results from laboratories hired by Bryant's attorneys indicate there was contamination in control samples intended to ensure accurate testing.

She said that threw into question the reliability of conclusions made by a defense DNA expert, Elizabeth Johnson, who has testified she believes the accuser had sex with someone else soon after her encounter with Bryant. The woman's attorneys have denied that claim.

Easter said she could not have questioned the results earlier because the defense dragged its feet in providing information needed to evaluate DNA test results.

"We have acted as well as we can," she said. "The prosecution has not had $12 million to pay for experts."

Ruckriegle asked Easter whether prosecution experts had concerns with the statements and conclusions of the defense's DNA experts. When she said her experts did have concerns, Ruckriegle asked her to identify them.

"I cannot at this time reveal who we are consulting with," she said.

"Then I can't evaluate it," Ruckriegle responded.

Defense attorney Hal Haddon criticized prosecutors, saying their actions were intended primarily to inflame public opinion on the eve of trial.

"These motions are humbugs designed to distract us from trial preparation, designed to generate cheap headlines and most of all designed to confuse the jury," he said.

Attorneys are expected to begin closed-door questioning of individual jury candidates Monday, but attorneys for news organizations including The Associated Press asked the judge to open much of those sessions. The judge agreed to hear arguments on the issue Monday.


Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press