High court backs judge
EAGLE – Final pretrial hearings concluded Monday in the sexual assault case against Kobe Bryant, and the Colorado Supreme Court let stand a ruling by District Judge Terry Ruckriegle that allows evidence about the accuser’s sex life 72 hours prior to the rape examination to be considered by the jury. That jury trial remains scheduled to begin Friday, Aug. 27. A huge potential jury pool, 999 potential jurors, has been summoned to fill the 11 juror seats. Wide speculation over the past couple of weeks that the prosecution might drop the case was denied – again – by District Attorney’s Office spokeswoman Krista Flannigan.”Nothing has changed,” she said Monday. “We’re going to trial.”
Expert trial analysts were divided over the importance of Monday’s state high court ruling.Craig Silverman, a Denver attorney and network analyst, called the Supreme Court decision a “blow to the prosecution.””It’s a great day for the defense,” he said. “It gets a victory from the Supreme Court.”David Lugert, a private attorney in Eagle who once worked as a state and federal prosecutor, said he wasn’t so sure about that.”Both sides won,” he said. “Bryant’s side got some evidence, and the jury will only hear part of the sexual history of the accuser.” In a closed-court hearing Monday, prosecutors were scheduled to ask Ruckriegle to reconsider his decision allowing the defense to tell jurors about money the alleged victim received from a victims compensation fund.The judge’s decision could bolster the defense’s efforts to undermine the alleged victim’s credibility. The defense has indicated it plans to tell jurors that the woman was given nearly $20,000, far more than usual, for mental health care and other services. Details of their argument were filed under seal.
In an open-court session on Monday, prosecutors suggested they had some concerns about the way DNA evidence was handled. Prosecutor Dana Easter asked that every member of the Colorado Bureau of Investigation who handled evidence in this case be called to testify. She wouldn’t explain why in open court, but analysts said they think they know.”The prosecution believes there is some hanky-panky going on,”former Denver prosecutor Norm Early said. “It’s clear she thinks there has been some evidence that’s been tampered with.” Hal Haddon, one of Bryant’s defense attorneys, said only those who did the DNA testing should be called as witnesses. The judge requested a list of lab employees and said he would choose who would testify.Last spring prosecutors hired an independent laboratory to retest the evidence originally tested by the Colorado Bureau of Investigation, which typically examines evidence for the prosecution. That raised some eyebrows.”There may be something fishy that tainted the integrity of the evidence,” Lugert said. “The defense has damaging DNA evidence. It must be something bad.”The defense plans to call CBI DNA investigator Yvonne Woods to testify.”It’s now clear the CBI is on the side of Kobe,” Silverman said. “It’s a total role reversal. The things the defense is doing, the prosecution should be doing.”The alleged victim underwent a rape examination at Valley View Hospital in Glenwood Springs 15 hours after her encounter with Bryant. The nurse found several small vaginal tears she reported as consistent with a sexual assault. The defense countered that the injuries occurred prior to or after the incident with Bryant. Samples of semen were also collected with swaps and from the accuser’s underwear showing they were from more than one man.Last week, Judge Ruckriegle denied the defense’s motion to include the accuser’s psychological and prescription drug problems in the trial. That ruling was a “serious blow to Bryant,” Lugert said.
The wrap-up of the bare-knuckled pretrial hearings – a process designed to determine which evidence and testimony the jury will hear – set the tone for the trial. It featured plenty of dramatic pretrial publicity about the accuser and about Bryant. The celebrity trial has attracted media from around the world to the Eagle County Criminal Justice Center. They’ve set up camp in a high-tech television shanty town across from the criminal justice center.Last week, an angry Judge Ruckriegle issued a blanket gag order banning comments with anyone connected with the case after the accuser’s attorney’s appeared on television criticizing the court’s accidental releases of sealed documents, which included the accuser’s name on the official court Web site. Defense attorneys Hal Haddon and Pamela Mackey requested the gag order because they said the pretrial publicity would harm their client’s right to a fair trail. “Messrs. Clune and Wood’s media campaign and their total disregard of Mr. Bryant’s fundamental right to a fair trial underscore the constitutional necessity” of the gag order, Haddon wrote.The gag order has been contested by members of the media who say it is overly broad and infringes on the First Amendment right of free speech. They have appealed it, as have the prosecution and the alleged victim’s private attorneys. Judge Ruckriegle is expected to rule on that appeal by Tuesday.Bryant, 25, an NBA player with the Los Angeles Lakers, is accused of sexually assaulting a then-19-year-old employee of the Lodge at Cordillera on June 30, 2003. Bryant was staying at the hotel prior to having knee surgery in Vail, and the young woman accepted an invitation to his room. He claims they had consensual sex, and she accused him of sexual assault.
Last week the accuser’s attorneys, John Clune and Lin Wood filed a civil suit in federal court seeking damages in excess of $75,000. That lawsuit claimed the alleged victim was “bent over a chair” by Bryant “and forced to remain in that position” while Bryant raped her.Court watchers said the filing of the civil suit painted the complainant as a “gold digger,” interested only in profiting from the incident.But former federal prosecutor Dave Lugert said the filing was more of a strategy than anything else.”It cuts the legs out of the defense’s cross examination,” he said. “It was a smart strategic move.” Attorney and network legal analyst Scott Robinson didn’t agree with that assessment.”In filing a lawsuit, you have laid your motivations bare,” he said.The alleged victim’s father last week also made public his displeasure at how the judge had handled the pretrial portion of the case in a letter to the judge. He criticized the judge’s rulings saying they favored Bryant, and he expressed outrage at the court’s careless handling of confidential information that was accidentally released several times over the course of the case.Meanwhile, U.S. District Judge Richard Matsch has ordered the attorneys for the alleged victim to explain by Aug. 30 why they should be allowed to go ahead with the civil case without publicly disclosing their client’s name. The order followed objections filed by attorneys for news organizations who asked the judge to scrutinize the reasoning behind the request.Staff writer Cliff Thompson can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 450, or email@example.com. The Associated Press and The Los Angeles Times-Washington Post News Service contributed to this report.