Charges still pending vs. Lakers stars
The local prosecuting attorney told a courtroom packed with reporters Monday that it could be at least the end of the week before he would decide whether to charge one of the NBA’s most popular players with felony sexual assault.District Attorney Mark Hurlbert said during a news conference Monday at the Eagle County Justice Center that he would spend the next few days examining evidence to determine whether Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant should be charged with a felony, a lesser charge or not charged at all. Bryant turned himself in to Eagle County authorities last Friday, July 4, after the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office issued a warrant for his arrest.”It’s possible sexual assault charges could be filed,” said Hurlbert. “It’s possible it could be something else. The investigation is ongoing. Sexual assault cases are very complex. Mr. Bryant’s case will be handled no differently than any other case.”Our overriding goal is justice in this case.”If charges are filed, Bryant would have to return to Eagle County Aug. 6, for his next court appearance. Hurlbert said felony sexual assault requires proof of force and/or intimidation. He said the crime carries a minimum penalty of 18 months in prison.Media circusMonday’s news conference saw camera crews from across the country fill a courtroom in the Eagle County Justice Center. Almost 50 journalists attended the event, made necessary in part by the case’s high profile and in part by the timing of Eagle County Sheriff Joy Hoy getting an arrest warrant for Bryant from a Clear Creek County judge. That move came after Hurlbert and Bryant’s attorneys had agreed that no action would be taken until at least Monday.The story has sparked national attention, earning banner headlines in newspapers across the country. Local Los Angeles TV stations interrupted regular programming to carry Monday’s new conference live, according to the Los Angeles Times. Camera crews carried live feeds from Eagle back to the East Coast for 5 p.m. news telecasts. The news conference was held at 3 p.m. Mountain time.CNN led with the story Sunday night and most of Monday, and Headline News interrupted its broadcast to take a live feed from the Monday’s news conference.On sports talk radio, little else has been received a mention. The story dominated Jim Rome’s Los Angeles-based afternoon sports talk show. It even earned a segment on Fox News’ political talk show “O’Reilly Factor,” with Bill O’Reilly.The allegationsBryant was released on $25,000 bond Friday after the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office issued a warrant for his arrest, accusing him of felony sexual assault on a 19-year-old Eagle County woman. Hurlbert said the alleged victim is doing OK, considering the circumstances.Bryant’s attorneys have repeatedly asserted that their client is innocent and said they expect him to be completely exonerated.”We are confident that upon the completion of an unbiased investigation, Mr. Bryant will be cleared of any criminal misconduct,” Bryant’s attorneys, Harold A. Haddon and Pamela Robillard Mackey, and his agent Robert Pelinka, said in a statement released Monday.”Kobe is innocent,” Mackey told the Los Angeles Times. “Can you imagine being accused of this? It’s awful.”Bryant was in Eagle County last week for surgery on his right knee at the Steadman Hawkins Clinic. He had left the area by last Wednesday. Hoy said Bryant flew back to Eagle County the night of July 4, turned himself in at the Eagle County Justice Center, was processed and posted $25,000 bond, then returned to California that night.Hoy said Bryant was in custody for less than an hour.While visiting Eagle County for his knee surgery, he stayed two nights, June 30 and July 1, at The Lodge at Cordillera in Edwards, where the incident allegedly occurred, sources said.Hoy said the assault allegedly occurred Monday, June 30. The accusations of sexual assault were reported to the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office Tuesday, July 1.Sources close to the investigation said physical evidence exists to link Bryant to the allegations.Hoy said Monday that after interviews with local witnesses and a review of the physical evidence, investigators met with representatives from the District Attorney’s Office and concluded that they had enough evidence for the felony sexual assault count.Hoy said Bryant has been cooperative throughout the investigation and remains cooperative.About the public BryantBryant, 24, has been with the Lakers seven years. He jumped to the NBA directly from high school. He married his wife, Vanessa, in April 2001. The couple had their first child, daughter Natalia, in January. Vanessa was in high school when the two began dating, causing a rift between Bryant and his parents. The family appears to be closing that schism.Laker general manager Mitch Kupchak said the organization would stand behind Bryant. He echoed the sentiments of many when he said the allegations are out of character of the Kobe Bryant he knows. He called Bryant a wonderful asset to the team and the community.As for the money, the Lakers said Bryant can opt out of his contract with the team after next season. The team has offered a three-year, $55-million extension, but Bryant has yet to accept it. He also agreed to a five-year deal with Nike believed to be worth about $45 million, according to media reports.Bryant has been able to garner those kinds of endorsement packages because of both his on-the-court performance, and his nearly spotless public image.Bryant is a two-time All-NBA first team selection, and is a five-time All-Star. He has helped lead the Lakers to three consecutive championships. That string fell short last season at the hands of the San Antonio Spurs, although he averaged a career-high 30 points in the series. Bryant is said to rarely hang out with teammates on the road or at home, and is said to stick close to home when the team is not traveling.The knee surgery that brought him to Eagle County comes three weeks after surgery in New York to repair his right shoulder.