Case will not be retried, but civil trial pending

EAGLE, Colo. -- The Kobe Bryant case collapsed Wednesday as
prosecutors abruptly dropped the sexual assault charge against the
NBA star, saying his 20-year-old accuser no longer wanted to
participate after a series of embarrassing courthouse gaffes.

The dramatic turn in the case against one the NBA's brightest
young stars came in the middle of jury selection and less than a
week before opening statements were scheduled to begin. Prosecutors
insisted they had enough evidence to win a conviction despite
losing a key series of pretrial rulings.

"This decision is not based upon a lack of belief in the victim
-- she is an extremely credible and an extremely brave young
woman," District Attorney Mark Hurlbert said outside the
courthouse. "Ultimately, we respect her decision 100 percent."

In a statement from his attorney, Bryant apologized for his
"behavior that night and for the consequences she has suffered in
the past year."

"Although I truly believe this encounter between us was
consensual, I recognize now that she did not and does not view this
incident the same way I did," said Bryant, a married father of one
who still faces a civil lawsuit filed by the woman that seeks
unspecified damages.

In court, one of the woman's lawyers, John Clune, said Bryant's apology factored into her decision to drop out of the case.

"Kobe was facing life in prison for a crime he did not commit," Bryant attorneys Pamela Mackey and Hal Haddon told ESPN's Jim Gray. "The accuser insisted on that statement as the price for his freedom. The statement doesn't change the facts: Kobe is innocent and now he is free."

Prosecutors spent at least $200,000 preparing for what was
expected to be one of the most closely watched trials in the
nation, and one that had gripped this mountain town and much of
Colorado for 14 months. Yet the case would have ultimately rested
on the testimony of a young woman the defense suggested was a
promiscuous, attention-seeking liar. And after mistakes that
revealed her identity, at least two death threats and relentless
media attention, she apparently had had enough.

"The difficulties that this case has imposed on this woman the
past year are unimaginable," said John Clune, one of her
attorneys. He said she has been through a difficult time and was
particularly disturbed by mistakes including the release of her
name on a state courts Web site and her medical history to

With the parents of the woman looking on, District Judge Terry
Ruckriegle threw out the case under a deal that means charges will
not be refiled. He said he took full responsibility for the gaffes,
but blamed Colorado lawmakers for slashing the budgets of the
judicial system.

Ruckriegle also said the case ended without full resolution.

"It will of course always leave a question in the mind of
everyone because as several of the [prospective] jurors have
stated, only two people know what happened," he said.

Legal experts said court rulings hurt the prosecution's case,
including a decision allowing her sex life in the days surrounding
her encounter with Bryant to be admitted as evidence. This was
expected to bolster the defense contention that she slept with
someone after leaving Bryant and before she went to a hospital exam
-- a potentially key blow to her credibility.

"You can't make a case when there is no case," said attorney
Lisa Wayne, who has defended clients in numerous sexual assault
cases. "The prosecution has to take responsibility."

The pending civil case would also allow defense attorneys to
argue the woman had financial motive to accuse Bryant of assault.
Bryant's defense team has long argued she falsely accused him to
gain the attention of a former boyfriend, and that she was given
nearly $20,000 from a victims' compensation fund.

Bryant, 26, tearfully admitted more than a year ago that 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 would have faced four years to life in prison or 20
years to life on probation, and a fine up to $750,000.

Like the criminal case, the civil suit accuses Bryant of
attacking the woman in his room at the Cordillera resort, causing
her emotional and physical problems that linger to this day.

Her attorneys accuse Bryant of flirting with the woman, a front
desk employee, during a tour of the resort. After the two ended up
in his room, they began to kiss.

The woman's attorneys said at some point during the kissing
"Bryant's voice became deeper and his acts became rougher" as he
began to grope the woman. She asked him to stop, but Bryant
allegedly blocked her exit, grabbed her and forced her over a chair
to rape her. Bryant's hands were around the woman's neck, the
attorneys said -- "a perceived threat of potential strangulation if
she resisted his advances."

An attorney for the woman, L. Lin Wood, said the civil case was
still on.

"There has been no settlement of the civil lawsuit and there
have been no discussions concerning a settlement," he said.

Criminal defense attorney Tony West, speaking on ESPN's "Outside the Lines," said the dismissal strengthens Bryant's position in the civil case.

"If she emerged from this criminal case with a cloud over her credibility, that would really hurt her in the civil case," West said. "I think that is clearly what the case is now. There are people who can't look at this situation and come away with any other conclusion than that someone who's not willing to testify in the criminal case when Kobe's facing a great deal of possible prison time, but she is willing to testify in the civil case where she stands to get some money, I think that really damages her credibility."

Larry Pozner, a former president of the National Association of
Criminal Defense Lawyers, said he did not think Bryant's statement
suggested an interest in settling the civil lawsuit.

"I would have guessed today would have been a global settlement
[covering both cases]," he said. "If it isn't, it's because the
defense has told them, 'We aren't paying you very much, and if you
want to continue, bring it on.' "

In Eagle, however, the scrutiny will soon fade. Mayor Jon
Stavney said many residents had grown weary of the attention.

"We were braced for the long haul, but I am sure the people
will see this as a relief," he said. He said he knew several
prospective jurors who were dismissed during the questioning, and
said people had told them "lucky you."

"I think people are pretty clear it was going to be an
ordeal," he said.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.