EAGLE, Colo. - Seemingly oblivious to the media and fan frenzy outside the courtroom, a stoic Kobe Bryant stood yesterday before an Eagle County judge who scheduled an Oct. 9 preliminary hearing in the felony sexual assault case against him.
Seven minutes and two words later, Bryant ducked out of the county Justice Center and into asport utility vehicle, which sped off in a three-car caravan as a crush of onlookers yelled support for the Lakers star accused of raping a 19-year-old college student June 30.
Bryant, 24, made his appearance in a 68-seat courtroom packed to capacity with reporters and members of the public ranging from a former president of the Texas Bar Association to three University of Colorado women's soccer players.
Dressed in a cream-colored suit, Bryant sat between his attorneys, Harold Haddon and Pamela Mackey. Bryant's wife, Vanessa, did not attend the hearing.
Bryant spoke only once, when he replied, "No, sir," to Judge Frederick Gannett's question of whether he objected to the Oct. 9 date, thereby waiving his right to a preliminary hearing within 30 days.
Oct. 9 is a Thursday, the day the Lakers are tentatively scheduled to return to Los Angeles after exhibition games the previous two nights at the University of Hawaii.
Sources close to Bryant said he has told them he intends to attend training camp in Honolulu, reporting with other veterans on Oct. 2. He also has said he plans to play as much of the season as possible. Bryant is also a member of the U.S. Olympic Team that will play in Athens next August.
Two to four weeks after the preliminary hearing, an arraignment will be held, legal experts said. Barring a plea bargain or dismissal, a trial would be held within six months of the arraignment unless good cause for a delay is established.
"If the defense asks for a continuance to have more time to prepare, it would be accepted," said Craig Truman, a Denver criminal defense attorney. "But there would be hell to pay if they are monkeying around because of Olympic dates."
Bryant has admitted he committed adultery by having what he said was consensual sex with the accuser in his hotel room at The Lodge and Spa at Cordillera in Edwards, Colo. He faces four years to life if convicted.
The bond hearing was the first court proceeding requiring Bryant's presence, and it was covered by an estimated 400 media members who set up in a dusty lot across the street from the courthouse.
The lot is owned by local businessman Bob Gallegos, who volunteered the land as a favor to county officials. He plans to begin charging rent before the preliminary hearing, a secretary at his place of business said, and several news organizations have offered thousands of dollars a day for exclusive use of the lot.
The spectacle was noted in court by Gannett.
"This was a very fast event for so much attention," he said.
Moments later, the judge ended the hearing, saying, "This is really it."
Minutes later, Bryant walked back out into the Colorado sunshine and was greeted by cheers from the spectators and curiosity seekers who rushed to the front of the roped-off lawn.
"We love you, Kobe!" several young girls shouted.
Kersten Herrara, 20, drove five hours from Pueblo, Colo. just to get a glimpse of Bryant. She is convinced of his innocence.
"I really like him. He's a great basketball player," she explained. "I'm sticking with him."
Seemingly absent were friends or supporters of the accuser, who lives about three miles from the courthouse in a two-story house on a quiet cul-de-sac. Three young women who identified themselves as her friends huddled quietly away from the crowd.
One said she was disgusted by the spectacle. She and another of the girls held small cameras.
At the preliminary hearing, which Gannett said should last one day, prosecutors will introduce testimony and evidence to establish that Bryant committed the crime.
If Gannett rules probable cause is established, he will transfer the case to 5th Judicial District Court Judge R. Thomas Moorhead, whose courtroom is also in Eagle. If prosecutors fail to establish probable cause, Gannett can dismiss the case.
Gannett said he doesn't expect another hearing requiring Bryant's appearance before Oct. 9.
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