Prosecutors, defense attorneys in Bryant case project rough profiles

Published 12:00 am Thursday, October 16, 2003

EAGLE, Colo. - Prosecutors tried to portray Kobe Bryant as an arrogant superstar who forced himself on a woman and wouldn't take no for an answer. Defense attorneys were just as rough with his accuser, suggesting she had sex with several men in the days before she said Bryant raped her.

Now it's up to a judge to decide whether the Los Angeles Lakers' guard will stand trial on charges that could send him to prison for the rest of his life.

A two-day preliminary hearing jammed full of revealing details about both Bryant and his accuser ended Wednesday with one more startling revelation - that the panties the woman wore to her rape exam had the semen of another man on them.

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Both sides claimed victory, with the prosecution saying it presented clear evidence the woman was raped and the defense contending she lied about a sexual encounter with a celebrity she was more than eager to meet.

''She is not worthy of your belief,'' defense attorney Pamela Mackey said.

Judge Frederic Gannett is expected to decide that by Monday, when he said he would likely issue a ruling that will either result in the case being dismissed or Bryant being sent to trial on sexual assault charges.

Most legal analysts said they expected Bryant would be ordered to trial, and a prosecutor said there was ''uncontradicted'' evidence that Bryant raped the 19-year-old woman at a mountain resort.

''He held her by the back of the neck with his hand during sexual intercourse,'' Greg Crittenden said. ''He lifted up her skirt. She said 'no.' He pulled down her underpants and she said 'no.' He penetrated her from behind and she cried.''

Crittenden was largely successful in getting the woman's story of her encounter with Bryant on June 30 at the Cordillera Resort & Spa told during the hearing that drew a horde of media members to this tiny mountain town.

He put Eagle County Detective Doug Winters on the stand to lead him through details of an encounter that began with innocent flirtation, got more serious with some consensual kissing and finally escalated into sex with the woman draped over the back of a chair in Bryant's hotel room.

But while prosecutors were eager to let the public hear graphic details of how the woman said Bryant forced her into sex, they also got an indication of how savagely the defense will go after his accuser should the case go to trial.

During Wednesday's hearing, Mackey got Winters to admit that another man's semen was on the yellow panties the woman wore to her rape test the day after her encounter with Bryant. The panties were a different pair than the underwear the woman said she wore the night she met Bryant.

The revelation plays into the defense's contention that the woman had multiple sexual encounters in the days before she claims she was raped and that her injuries may have been caused by those encounters.

''It's startling, it's impressive but it's negative public relations value for the prosecution is more significant than it's legal value,'' said Stan Goldman, a professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles.

Indeed, both sides appeared to be playing to public sympathies during the hearing in an effort to bolster their cases among any potential members of a jury.

That's why prosecutors brought out details such as the woman's claim that Bryant made her kiss his penis before she was allowed to leave, and that's why Mackey suggested last week that the accuser's injuries were consistent with someone having sex with three men in three days.

If the case goes to trial, though, any discussion of the women's sexual past will be limited by Colorado's Rape Shield Law. And prosecutors may have trouble convincing a jury that a woman enamored of Bryant's celebrity had no intention of having sex with him as they kissed in his room.

Eagle County District Attorney Mark Hurlbert said there was more to come from the prosecution if the case goes to trial. He said prosecutors deliberately limited the hearing to testimony by Winters so they would not have to lay out their entire case.

''No prosecutor puts on their whole case at preliminary hearing,'' he said. ''In this case you saw kind of a sanitized version.''

Bryant, who has traveled to Eagle three times over the last two months for court sessions, will likely hear of the judge's decision on his trial from his lawyers. Gannett said he would post the decision on the court's Web site, probably on Monday.

If a trial is ordered, Bryant will have to come back within 30 days to enter a plea. After that, a trial could be held within six months, though many expect it to be delayed until next summer's NBA offseason.

Meanwhile, Eagle will return to normal as television sets in front of the courthouse are torn down and members of the media leave town. Already, the excitement of having a celebrity trial in town appears to be wearing down, with most in Eagle ignoring the spectacle taking place at the small courthouse on the town's outskirts.