Eagle, Colo. Kobe Bryant returned to court Monday for a two-day hearing that included sharp arguments over how to instruct the jurors who will decide whether the NBA standout is guilty of sexual assault.
Attorneys on both sides said they could be ready for trial as early as the last week in August, though the judge didn't immediately set a trial date.
The issue of consent has emerged as a key battleground in the case. The defense wants jurors told they can convict Bryant only if prosecutors prove beyond a reasonable doubt that his accuser did not consent to sex -- and that Bryant knew it.
"The jury has to be told that if someone consents, that's not submission against her will," argued defense attorney Hal Haddon.
Prosecutors said they were required to prove only that Bryant's actions were enough to cause the woman to submit to sex against her will.
"By proving the elements (of sexual assault), you necessarily disprove consent," said Matt Holman, an assistant state attorney general helping with the case.
Bryant, 25, has pleaded not guilty to felony sexual assault, saying he had consensual sex with the then-19-year-old resort worker at a Vail-area hotel where he stayed last summer. If convicted, he faces four years to life in prison, 20 years to life on probation and a fine of up to $750,000.
The jury instruction debate rests on fundamental questions that could determine whether Bryant is convicted.
During the preliminary hearing, sheriff's detective Doug Winters said the woman flirted and kissed Bryant in his hotel room and was attacked when she turned to leave. He said Bryant grabbed her by the neck, pulled up her skirt and raped her against a chair.
She told investigators she told Bryant "no" at least twice during a five-minute attack. The detective said she told Bryant at one point she wouldn't tell anyone what happened "for fear of -- she didn't want him to commit more physical harm to her."
State District Judge Terry Ruckriegle didn't immediately rule on the jury instructions.
The judge did reject a defense request to instruct the jury that it could assume certain items not collected from Bryant's hotel room by sheriff's deputies could have proven his innocence.
Haddon has said investigators should have preserved as evidence the chair, carpet samples, and tissues and towels the woman used in the hotel bathroom.
Ruckriegle said state law allowed such a jury instruction only if there was proof investigators intended to destroy evidence they knew could be exculpatory. He said the defense could address the crime scene investigation at trial.
The judge also rebuffed a last-ditch prosecution bid to conduct new tests on potentially exculpatory DNA evidence.
"As it stands now, the prosecution is hurt by the DNA results," said Craig Silverman, a Denver defense attorney familiar with the case. "That's why they wanted a retest, but no retest will occur, so they're stuck with a bad result."