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Judge rebuffs DNA hearing

Cliff Thompson

EAGLE – Attorneys in the Kobe Bryant sexual assault case skirmished Thursday during an 11th-hour prosecution challenge to the legitimacy of DNA analysis presented by an expert witnesses for the defense. With jury selection starting this morning, the prosecution is claiming DNA evidence analyzed by expert Dr. Elizabeth Johnson is tainted.Judge Terry Ruckriegle on Thursday denied the prosecution’s request for a hearing on the DNA evidence for the time being, saying the prosecution did not provide compelling evidence that a hearing was needed. The prosecution will be allowed to bring the matter up later.The defense team’s DNA independent analysis conducted in April forms the basis of the defense’s claim that Bryant’s accuser had multiple sexual liaisons in the days before and after the incident on June 30, 2003, when she accused Bryant of raping her. She worked at the Lodge and Spa at Cordillera, where Bryant was a guest.An estimated 450 jurors will show up today to begin answer questionnaires designed to help attorneys judge their suitability to serve on a 12-person jury.Cheap headlinesThe prosecution’s challenge prompted an angry retort by defense attorney Hal Haddon. “This is a notorious humbug designed to distance us from the trial issues,” said Haddon. “It’s designed to garner cheap headlines.”Deputy District Attorney Dana Easter fired back: “This is not bogus. It’s very, very important.”She said the District Attorney’s Office is scrambling to keep up with DNA evidence because the defense did not provide copies of the reports it is required to share with the prosecution until just hours before the hearing.That led to testy exchanges between Ruckriegle and Easter, who pressed the judge for more time to consider the newly received evidence.”I need a yes or no answer” said Ruckriegle. “Do you have an expert who will testify about the evidence other than speculation?””It’s not the people’s fault, your honor,” said Easter. “If we had had the information we requested, we would have done this a long time ago.”The prosecution claimed that a DNA control sample analyzed by Technology Associates of Ventura, Calif., was contaminated. A control sample is used to determine the veracity of the test results because it isn’t suppose to contain any material.The prosecution also challenged portions of DNA reports that were “whited out,” suggesting the whiteout hid pertinent information. But Haddon said the information whited out belonged to other, unrelated criminal cases being analyzed by the laboratory.’Major meltdown’This angry exchange and others signal the tensions building in the case, for which opening statements are scheduled Sept. 7.”It’s apparent there’s a major meltdown by attorneys in the court,” said Dave Lugert, a trial attorney serving as a television legal analyst. “Clearly nerves are fraying. Emotions, frustrations and even resentments of attorneys toward the other side are boiling to the surface.” It seemed apparent to court observers Thursday that both sides were playing for headlines.”Both sides are posturing,” said Bruce Carey, a local attorney and former prosecutor. “They are posturing within whatever legal means they can. Judge Ruckriegle runs a pretty tight ship. Some of it may get in.”Lugert put it another way. “It was a free kick at the cat,” he said. “It’s a strategic motion to lay out in public the fact that there’s some significant questions about contamination and the integrity of the evidence, and there’s some questions about the defense experts. If the court throws the (DNA evidence) out, then the prosecutors win. If it does not, they will still get to argue it before the jury.”Ruckriegle also ruled on a number of other pretrial motions during the hearing. Some of those, such as the content of juror questionnaires, were conducted in closed session.The defense and prosecution have created a paper jungle that, in the court record, comprises 743 separate files, Ruckriegle said.Staff Writer Cliff Thompson can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 450, or cthompson@vaildaily.comVail, Colorado


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