Sad but not surprised |

Sad but not surprised

Deputy district attorney Dana Easter heads into court in Eagle, Colo., on Wednesday, Sept. 1, 2004, where the sexual assault charges against Kobe Bryant were dropped. (AP Photo/Ed Andrieski)

When confronted by sheriff’s detectives, Kobe Bryant’s first concern was his career as a world-famous basketball star with the Los Angeles Lakers and his millions of dollars worth of endorsements, said Deputy District Attorney Dana Easter, lead prosecutor in the Bryant rape case, recounting her memories of the case as to why she thought it was strong.Last week, the alleged victim told prosecutors she was unwilling to proceed with the trial, and the case was dismissed at District Attorney Mark Hurlbert’s request. It cannot be refiled. The young woman still has an active lawsuit against Bryant in federal court in Denver. Easter said Bryant’s concern over his wife’s fury was second. He also told investigators that when he’d had sex like that with another woman, she’d had no problem with it, said Easter.Bryant even went so far as to demonstrate on one of the investigators, Eagle County Sheriff’s Detective Dan Loya, what he had done with the young woman, then 19, while Loya and Detective. Doug Winters were interrogating him the next night, Easter said.As for his accuser, Easter said she ran from Bryant’s room, fearing he would follow her, and was visibly upset when she returned to the lobby. Bellman Bob Pietrack and two hotel guests were waiting to learn if she ever got the autograph for which she went to his room.That’s when she uttered her first words about the incident that would leave her both revered and reviled, according to Easter.”She said, ‘He choked me,'” Easter said, describing the so-called “outcry” conversation between Pietrack and the young woman when they left the Lodge and Spa at Cordillera at about 11 p.m. June 30, 2003.In a wide-ranging conversation, Easter discussed the young woman’s ordeal, her injuries, Bryant’s statements to sheriff’s investigators, and said that until about 11 a.m. Sept. 1 – the day the case was dropped – prosecutors were confident they could convict Bryant.”There’s nothing to keep me from talking about the facts,” said Easter. “There’s no more pretrial publicity issue.” This is her version of the case against Bryant.Strength as they see it”This was a very strong case,” said Easter. “I say that as someone who has been prosecuting sex assault cases since 1989.”Easter reviewed the case back in July 2003. She said the decision to file charges was not a close call, that the case was strong, and that Hurlbert’s advice and counsel from other district attorneys was that it should be filed.

“That advice never changed. Many, many people, when they hear the case, say, ‘Now I know why you filed it,'” said Easter.She said much had to do with the credibility of the young woman’s “outcry.” A couple of Cordillera guests observed what Easter called “a huge change in her demeanor” from the happy girl who went up to room 35 to get Bryant’s autograph to the person who came back dow, although one of her coworkers said she saw nothing out of the ordinary in the young woman’s behavior. “Bob Pietrack was a remarkable witness in this case,” said Easter. “He was very shaken by her outcry. The first thing she told him when they were out the door was, ‘He choked me.’ She eventually was able to get the rest of the story out.”Easter said sexual assault cases are tough to win, but she liked her chances at trial.”This was one of the strongest acquaintance-rape cases I’ve ever seen,” she said.Easter said genital injuries are actually rare in most rape cases. The fact that the young woman had them spoke to the strength of their case. “The human body was designed to have consensual sexual intercourse, and it generally does not get injured in the process,” said Easter.She said the bruise on the young woman’s throat at the jaw line was consistent with how she explained Bryant controlled her. Easter said that during sex, Bryant even turned the young woman’s head to the side to coerce her into promising not to tell what happened.Of defense and DNABased on DNA reports from the lab they hired, Technical Associates and Dr. Elizabeth Johnson, Bryant’s attorneys accused the alleged victim of having sex with three men in three days, including one after the incident with Bryant and before her rape exam the next afternoon.Easter called it a trial balloon by the defense that prosecutors were ready to shoot down. Bryant’s defense attorneys say they don’t make assertions they cannot prove.”That speaks to nothing more than the defense’s skill of mastering the sound bite. It was the most damaging innuendo possible, with no regard for the truth,” said Easter. “They talked to every person she ever kissed and never found anyone who said they had sex with her between June 28 and June 30, and no one after the incident.”Easter said there was no semen in the vaginal vault when the alleged victim reported to Valley View Hospital in Glenwood Springs for her rape exam.”Semen is the fluid in which sperm are carried,” Easter said. “The only way sperm can get anywhere is in the semen. When you have sperm with no semen, you have an old sexual intercourse. Sperm can live up to 17 days on the cervix. DNA can remain in underwear even after washings. We had an expert witness ready to testify to that.”

The Colorado Bureau of Investigations’ reports did not necessarily support the prosecution’s case, and CBI lab workers had been called to testify for the defense, which observers said was rare.”Their report supported what we believe the facts to be,” said Easter. “It was not inconsistent with what the victim had told us.”She said the defense employed possible intimidation tactics, putting many of the victim’s friends on the stand, even those who did not want to talk to them, and made them testify.The jury, Easter predicted, would not have been fooled.”We were pleased with jury selection and were convinced we were going to get a good jury,” said Easter. “The case was very powerful and when people knew all the facts, I remain convinced that we could have gotten a guilty verdict.”Decision to dismissProsecutors received the call at 11 a.m. Sept. 1 from the young woman saying she could not go forward with the case. That call came as the last of the prospective jurors were being questioned in closed-door sessions. By later that afternoon, the case was dismissed.Easter said the criminal case could have gone forward in two ways: With the young woman’s willing cooperation or by issuing a subpoena her and making her talk.”The second was something Mark (Hurlbert) and the team was never willing to do with this young woman,” said Easter. “The sexual assault experience is a terrible and terrifying experience. This young woman’s 14 months saw her truly put on trial and not treated well in many sectors. Generally, prosecutors do not compel victims to testify, especially in sexual assault cases.”Easter said the young woman’s decision came from an accumulation of the things that had happened to her.”You and I can barely imagine the awful anticipation of having to testify,” said Easter. “I can empathize, but we’ve never experienced it. It must be terrifying, given the treatment she’d received to that point.”Standing behind Hurlbert as he read his statement to the media after the judge dismissed the case, Easter said prosecutors were sad but not surprised. She said they were amazed at how much courage the young woman had shown, and that she had stuck it out for so long under such pressure and scrutiny.

“I felt incredibly sad for the victim in this case, sad her story wasn’t going to be told, sad she had been put in a situation where she felt she was not going to get a fair trial. Every time her name was released, it was devastating to her,” said Easter. “There were times when she questioned her decision to report it, but we believed she would be able to do it. It was a daily struggle for her.”Easter said Bryant’s attorneys were negotiating with the young woman’s attorney, John Clune, about the apology Byrant issued the day the case was dismissed, but that prosecutors had nothing to do with it and that the civil case had nothing to do with the criminal case.”The victim was physically ill when she told us she could not go forward,” said Easter. “She wanted the case dismissed and we went along with that request.”Strong evidenceHeaded into trial prosecutors had the following physical evidence:- Genital injuries on the accuser, two tears a centimeter long, and many smaller tears, a millimeter or so long. One inch is about three centimeters.- Three spots of the young woman’s blood on Kobe Bryant’s T-shirt, transferred there from Bryant’s penis. Bryant was wearing it the next night when he was interviewed by sheriff’s investigators. As they were collecting clothes, he asked if they wanted the shirt he was wearing, took it off and tossed it to them.- A nickel-sized bruise on the woman’s chin that Easter said is consistent with the way the alleged victim says Bryant controlled her, with a hand on her throat.- Bryant’s statements to sheriff’s investigators.- Prosecution witnesses centered around the testimony of the young woman, Lodge and Spa at Cordillera bellman Bob Pietrack and Dr. Henry Lee, the DNA expert who testified for the defense in the O.J. Simpson murder case.- Bryant said the sex was consensual. His attorneys insisted that the injuries could have been caused by consensual sex.

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