Case turned at prelim
EAGLE – The watershed moment in the Kobe Bryant case came during the preliminary hearing last October, an event many legal experts had predicted would never happen.Prosecutors took three and a half hours to set up their case that Bryant had forced a 19-year-old Eagle woman to have sex with him in his hotel suite.
It took defense attorney Pamela Mackey 22 minutes to drill through it like a stiletto through butter. As she began her cross examination, she accidentally named the victim six times, then ended her interrogation with the question, “Could the injuries have been caused having sex with three men in three days?”That shifted the focus from the alleged perpetrator to the alleged victim.”Once is a mistake, twice is a pattern,” said local defense attorney and former state and federal prosecutor David Lugert, analyzing the case for television stations and newspapers.But it turned the tide and shifted the focus from Bryant to his alleged victim, and Mackey made sure it stayed there.”Everyone expected them to waive the preliminary hearing, but it was their first chance to put on a show,” said local defense attorney and former prosecutor Jim Fahrenholtz. “From that moment, the defense was on offense, and the prosecution was on defense – and it was an assault.”Fahrenholtz said the whole “mess” started with the Sheriff’s Office making Bryant’s arrest before the district attorney approved the warrant.But then comes the critical question, Fahrenholtz said, asking whether District Attorney Mark Hurlbert knew what everyone now knows about the case: the allegations of the alleged victim’s past, the overdose attempts, and finally the problems with the prosecution’s DNA evidence.”If he did, one would have to question the decision to file the charges,” said Fahrenholtz. “If he believed in the case as much as indicated, the case should have gone forward. That’s not the appearance we’re left with.”He should have had a better feel for this than an 11th-hour dismissal.”Fahrenholtz said one need look no further than Eagle County Judge Fred Gannett’s ruling to send the case to trial. Gannett’s endorsement of the prosecution’s case was hardly ringing.”The reasons he gave that the case was weak were eventually the reasons the case was dismissed,” said Fahrenholtz
The criminal case against Bryant may not have collapsed as abruptly as it may seem.Sources said Thursday that Bryant’s defense attorneys and his alleged victim’s attorneys had been sparring for weeks over an apology Bryant’s team issued in his name after the sexual assault charges were dropped Wednesday. The sources said the case could have been dropped weeks ago, if an agreement could have been reached. Those negotiations were continuing even as hundreds of potential jurors were being questioned.Bryant’s attorneys, Mackey and Harold Haddon, told ESPN in a written statement that the apology was “the price for his freedom.”Local Bryant defense team member Terry O’Connor huddled with the alleged victim’s private attorneys, Lin Wood and John Clune, Wednesday afternoon just after the last juror was questioned in a closed-door session and a few hours before District Judge Terry Ruckriegle granted Hurlbert’s motion to dismiss. A civil case against Bryant is still pending in federal court.Bryant’s statement said, “I do not question the motives of this young woman. … I now understand that she sincerely feels” that she was a rape victim.”Cynthia Stone of the Colorado Coalition Against Sexual Assault, said what Bryant’s alleged victim went through is exactly what keeps women from reporting sexual assault.”Women fear loss of privacy, being blamed for what happened to them and not being believed about what happened to them,” said Stone. We hope that (Bryant’s) statements send a strong message to those who have vilified her and who have tried this young woman in the court of public opinion without knowing the whole truth.”Bryant attorneys said the alleged victim had made the accusation to make her boyfriend jealous, to extort money from Bryant, and as a pattern of attention-getting behavior. Clune again denied any connection between Wednesday’s dismissal to the civil case.
When he dismissed the case against Bryant Wednesday, District Judge Terry Ruckriegle said the kinds of mistakes made by court staff were predictable after the kinds of funding cuts the judicial system has faced.He told reporters Thursday that the Bryant case is “exhibit A” in the fight against more funding cuts.”This is a nationwide problem,” he said. “This is no longer a potential impact, it’s a very real impact.”Speaking with reporters in an empty courtroom Thursday, Ruckriegle recalled postponing a preliminary hearing in a murder case twice because the tape machine failed and there were no clerks to take transcripts.Eagle County Administrator Jack Ingstad, taking issue with what he’d heard of the judge’s remarks, said Thursday that Eagle County had not cut any funding to the courts.The Bryant case piled up 800 pleadings in 44 files. In those, the alleged victim’s name was listed three times, not including when court clerk Michelle Goodbee accidentally e-mailed transcripts from a closed hearing to news organizations that eventually published the sordid details about the woman’s sexual activities.Randy Wyrick writes for the Vail Daily. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.