Bryant to stand trial in rape case

LOS ANGELES - Kobe Bryant will stand trial for felony sexual assault, a Colorado judge ruled yesterday, meaning the unnerving shadow hanging over the Los Angeles Lakers' season will linger for months while the five-time NBA All-Star fights charges that could result in a lifelong prison sentence.

Analysts predict the trial could take place as soon as March or as late as next fall. However, lawyers who know Bryant attorneys Hal Haddon and Pamela Mackey say basketball is not important to them.

"I think the trial will happen after the season, but it will be for reasons pertaining to case preparation," said Larry Pozner, a Denver criminal defense attorney. "Hal and Pam will ignore the Lakers season. What they won't ignore is the time needed to complete a thorough investigation."

Bryant, 25, and his 19-year-old accuser had sex June 30 at an Edwards, Colo., resort hotel where the woman worked. She says he raped her, telling the detective who testified at the preliminary hearing that Bryant grabbed her by the neck and forced her to have intercourse. Bryant has said the sex was consensual.

Eagle County Judge Frederick Gannett determined that prosecutors established probable cause at the two-day hearing, which included more than eight hours of often graphic testimony.

Gannett, in his last decision pertaining to the case, took five days to issue his ruling in a comprehensive nine-page filing that frequently focused on the weakness of the prosecution case.

"The totality of the evidence ... leaves no doubt that there are a considerable number of issues to be determined," Gannett wrote. "Almost all of the evidence introduced at the preliminary hearing permits multiple inferences, which ... do not support a finding of probable cause."

Nevertheless, he wrote, "the alleged victim's statement, not having been shown to be incredible or implausible as a matter of law, cannot be rejected by the court. Her statement presents evidence of sexual intercourse against her will and subject to the application of force, resulting in pain and injury."

Bryant's next court appearance will be Nov. 10. A plea could be entered then, or in a separate arraignment weeks later.

The trial would be scheduled within six months of the arraignment under Colorado's speedy trial law, although Bryant could waive that right. Prosecutors could object to Bryant trying to push back the trial, but experts say defense attorneys would have sound reasons to take their time.

"There are going to be a lot of evidentiary issues before they pick a jury," said Karen Steinhauser, who teaches law at the University of Denver. "Prosecutors requested money for a lot of expert witnesses. I'm sure the defense will have its own experts. It takes time to find the experts and have them review the case."

At least four key issues must be determined before trial:

  • The admissibility of Bryant's statement to investigators July 1. He may not have been read his Miranda rights and he might have made the statements while under the influence of painkillers. He had knee surgery earlier in the day.

  • Whether evidence of the woman's sexual activity with other men in the days before her encounter with Bryant is an exception to rape-shield statutes. The defense contends that vaginal lacerations could have been caused by other men.

  • The admissibility of medical records pertaining to the woman's February and May suicide attempts and other evidence questioning her credibility.

  • Whether the trial will be held in tiny Eagle County or in another Colorado jurisdiction.

    Said Haddon: "As the court notes in its decision, almost all of the evidence viewed either independently or collectively does not support a finding of probable cause, let alone proof beyond a reasonable doubt, the test to be applied at trial."

    Eagle County District Attorney Mark Hurlbert held a different view, stating that he is "pleased with the judge's decision, although we had confidence all along."

    The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper. Wire reports contributed to this article.

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