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Archive for Saturday, December 20, 2003

Potential witnesses sent home

Judge, attorneys meet in private to discuss medical records

December 20, 2003

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— Putting off testimony at a key hearing in the Kobe Bryant case, the trial judge sent witnesses home Friday and met privately with attorneys arguing over whether the medical history of the woman accusing the NBA player of rape should be allowed as evidence.

Attorneys for both sides left the courthouse without comment after the closed-door session ended Friday night.

Bryant then returned to Los Angeles, but did not arrive at the Staples Center until the start of the second quarter against Denver. He hit the game-winning shot at the buzzer in a 101-99 victory over Denver.

The outcome of the issue before state District Judge Terry Ruckriegle could play a huge role at trial: The defense hopes to argue the woman had mental problems that could have clouded her perception of what happened between the two in a Colorado hotel room in June.

Bryant, 25, has insisted they had consensual sex.

Ruckriegle asked attorneys on both sides to spell out in briefs due Jan. 9 whether the medical history should be allowed. The issue will be taken up again at a Jan. 23 hearing.

"I want the opportunity to reflect on it," he said.

David Lugert, a defense attorney and former prosecutor, said the trial's slow pace suggested a long paper fight was coming.

"The case is going sideways," Lugert said.

Prosecutors and attorneys for the woman say her medical history should remain out of public view. They urged the judge to hold any arguments about the issue behind closed doors, and he agreed.

Among those subpoenaed by the defense to appear Friday were the accuser's mother and a former friend, Lindsey McKinney, who has said the woman tried to kill herself twice this year.

The woman's father, who was not subpoenaed, spent the day sitting in the gallery, 20 feet away from Bryant.

The Los Angeles Lakers guard faces four years to life in prison or 20 years to life on probation if convicted of sexual assault. The Lakers had a home game Friday night.

In Colorado, medical records must remain sealed unless the patient consents or gives up privacy rights.

Bryant's lawyers contend the woman waived those rights because she spoke with others about her medical condition.

Specifically, the defense wants access to documents from the North Colorado Medical Center in Greeley, where authorities brought the woman in February after determining she was a "danger to herself."

Prosecutor Ingrid Bakke said allowing the medical details to be brought up before a national media audience would prevent other alleged sexual assault victims from coming forward.

But Tom Kelley, an attorney representing media organizations, told the judge that a significant amount of information about the woman's medical and psychological history already had been reported.

"Unless someone gives graphic detail of what's in a medical record, I don't think it could be seriously argued" that the hearing should be closed, Kelley said.

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