Bryant plea set for mid-May |

Bryant plea set for mid-May

Randy Wyrick
Vail Daily/Bret Hartman Los Angeles Lakers' star Kobe Bryant, Defense Attorney Pamela Mackey, left, and a member of his security leave the Eagle County Justice Center Wednesday after the final day of three pretrial motion hearings.

When court was recessed Wednesday afternoon, Kobe Bryant eased away from the defendant’s table, shook hands with his defense attorneys while thanking them for their work, and strode from that court toward another court.

The Lakers played Houston last night in their first-round NBA playoff series, and Bryant was headed to a world he could control, or at least influence.

Bryant will be right back in Eagle in a couple weeks, and for the first time he’ll be required to say something about the charges he faces.

Sometime during the next set of pretrial hearings, May 10-12, Bryant will be arraigned on the felony sexual assault charge against him, and will enter his plea, expected to be “not guilty.”

From that date, the jury must be seated within six months for the trial to begin, early November at the latest.

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District Judge Terry Ruckriegle asked prosecutors and Bryant’s defense attorneys when they thought they might be ready to go to trial. Both sides said August, although some legal experts said that might be ambitious.

Denver defense attorney Lisa Wayne said she doesn’t expect the trial to start until well after the Labor Day holiday, and that jury selection could take six weeks.

“This case really isn’t unusual in terms of the time it takes to bring a sexual assault case to trial,” said Wayne. “It is unusual in terms of who the defendant is. I’ve had sexual assault cases take two to three years to come to trial.”

Bryant’s case has been working its way through the justice system since June 30, 2003, about 10 months since the night he allegedly raped a 19-year-old Eagle woman in Room 35 at the Lodge and Spa at Cordillera. Bryant, who has said he and woman had consensual sex, would face four years to life in prison or 20 years to life on probation if he were convicted of felony sexual assault.

Delays not difficult to track

Ruckriegle said that if Bryant’s case seems slow to come to trial, the reasons aren’t tough to find.

“I don’t have enough fingers to point out circumstances of action or inaction in this case,” he said, pointing his 10 extended fingers at the defense and prosecution tables.

Ruckriegle pointed out to the alleged victim’s attorney, John Clune, that some of the delays are self-inflicted. He said it’s unusual for an alleged victim to have her own attorney and each time Clune files a motion, the judge has to hold a hearing and issue a ruling on it.

And the causes of delays, said Ruckriegle, don’t end there.

Ruckriegle seemed ready to arraign Bryant on Wednesday, but he postponed the action because of the media’s presumed request for cameras in the courtroom for the event.

“I would grant the request and motion, and would proceed were it not for another of those extraordinary circumstances,” said Ruckriegle. “The biggest on those non-parties, both in terms of numbers and public perception, has the opportunity to ask for expanded media coverage.”

Speedy trial trigger

The issue of a quick trial date came to a very public head when Clune filed a request asking Ruckriegle to set the trial date as soon as possible. Clune’s request was soon followed by similar motions from the defense and prosecution.

Under questioning from Ruckriegle, Clune said his request was not meant to question the way Ruckriegle has moved the case along, but to allow the alleged victim to return to a more normal life. Clune said that regardless of the trial’s outcome, its conclusion is the only way to slow or stop the harassment the alleged victim deals with daily.

“We’re trying to change the lifestyle the victim has had to lead,” said Clune. “Since this case started, she has had to quit school and leave her home town. This case has generated three significant death threats, more threats of physical harm, and further sexual assault.”

Clune pointed out that while Bryant might be dealing with his own issues in connection with the case, on the night after the morning his alleged victim testified in court, Bryant flew in a private jet to play in a Lakers game.

That same night, said Clune, the alleged victim was trying to have dinner with a friend and a friend’s mother when he received a phone call from the alleged victim, who was almost hysterical. She had been followed and harassed by a man, and Clune said she was hiding behind a plastic plant when she called him, asking what she should do.

“Her default position is that anyone she meets has the potential to do her harm,” Clune told Ruckriegle.

That incident triggered Clune’s decision to ask Ruckriegle the following day for a quick trial date, Clune said, responding to Ruckriegle’s question about why he hadn’t made an issue of it during the closed hearings that day, the day the alleged victim testified.

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