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Archive for Monday, August 16, 2004

Bryant’s final pretrial hearing today

Sexual-assault trial scheduled to start Aug. 27, but speculation of dismissal mounting

August 16, 2004

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— With Kobe Bryant's sexual-assault trial scheduled to begin in less than two weeks, speculation is mounting that prosecutors are looking for a way to dismiss the charge after a series of setbacks.

The NBA All-Star is due in court today in Eagle, Colo., his final court appearance before jury selection begins Aug. 27.

But events of the past two weeks suggest prosecutors might be seeking an avenue to dismiss the charge with minimal embarrassment, legal experts said.

"We have too many things happening in this case that we just don't normally have," said Larry Pozner, former president of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. "The big picture? None of this bodes well for the prosecution."

Officials connected with the case are barred from commenting in detail to the media, but district attorney's spokeswoman Krista Flannigan has said prosecutors still plan to try Bryant, who acknowledges having sex with the then 19-year-old hotel employee last summer but insists she consented.

Among the setbacks for prosecutors:

  • In late July, District Judge Terry Ruckriegle lost a battle with media attorneys and was forced to release transcripts of a closed-door hearing that prosecutors called "extremely harmful" to their case. The transcripts mistakenly had been e-mailed to a handful of media organizations.

In the transcripts, a defense expert 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 the following day. The defense has suggested it would make that argument to undermine the accuser's credibility.

  • Soon after the transcript was released, the accuser's attorneys, John Clune and Lin Wood, appeared on national television to criticize courthouse blunders that they said damaged their client's faith in the justice system. They questioned whether the mistakes -- the e-mailing of the transcripts in June to several news organizations, and the posting of the alleged victim's name on a state court Web site -- would prevent a fair hearing of their clients' accusation.
  • Last week, the woman's lawyers filed a civil suit against Bryant in federal court, seeking unspecified monetary damages for pain, "public scorn, hatred and ridicule" they said she has suffered since her encounter with the Los Angeles Lakers guard. Bryant attorney Pamela Mackey said in a court filing that the lawsuit had the effect of "exposing her motivation to pursue her false accusation -- the hope of a large monetary reward."
  • Friday, Ruckriegle dealt the prosecution another blow, turning down a motion to delay the trial.

A state hearing officer on a panel that determines violations of Colorado's Rules of Professional Conduct, Tom Overton, told The Denver Post he was "appalled" by interviews in which Wood and Clune have criticized the judge. Overton said that if media reports of the lawyers' comments are correct, "their actions have shown an utter contempt for the integrity of the state judicial system and the court."

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