Superstar, small-town girl face first major hearing |

Superstar, small-town girl face first major hearing

Vail Daily\Melinda KruseAccess Hollywood interviews NBC's Michelle Hofland about the latest in the Kobe Bryantcase Wednesday in front of the Eagle County Justice Center.

They shake their heads and ask, “How did such a seemingly nice young man end up in such an awful mess?”

NBA star Kobe Bryant is today’s star attraction, but in a much more serious court.

Bryant, a five-time NBA All Star, is in the fight of his life and it’s a fight for his freedom. If convicted, he faces up to life in prison.

He stands accused of raping a 19-year-old Eagle County woman, the night before he was scheduled to have knee surgery at Vail’s Steadman Hawkins clinic – surgery he had not bothered to mention to his employers, the Los Angeles Lakers. Ironically, Lakers coach Phil Jackson was in Eagle County that night, within six miles of Bryant’s hotel. Neither knew the other was in the valley.

At Lakers training camp this week, Bryant said he has good days and bad, and that he’s counting on God and his family to help him through this case. He denied a magazine report that he sought a divorce from his wife, Vanessa, showing reporters a new tattoo with her name and a crown. He told reporters that Vanessa is his queen and that their daughter, Natalia, is his princess.

While Bryant returned to the Lakers and basketball, his alleged victim has dropped out of college over the incident. Since the story of rape allegations broke in early July, she has been targeted by Web sites and rabid screamers calling themselves Kobe Bryant fans.

At least two men allegedly threatened to kill the young woman and both are facing their own criminal trials.

“Mr. Bryant and his representatives took this threat very seriously and acted immediately and appropriately to involve law enforcement,” said Bryant’s attorney, Pamela Mackey. “In the two months since this case became public, there have been multiple threats against Mr. Bryant, his lawyers and his accuser. There have been outrageously false stories claiming that Mr. Bryant has offered money to the accuser. We condemn these threats and these false stories.

“They are the unfortunate byproducts of the media circus which has overtaken this case,” she added. “This atmosphere threatens not just Mr. Bryant, his lawyers and the accuser, but the fundamental right to a fair trial before an impartial jury.”

Mackey said Bryant cooperated fully with law enforcement when his accuser’s life was threatened, as he has throughout the case that erupted at the beginning of July.

“Mr. Bryant wants this matter resolved through the criminal justice system, where he is confident he will be acquitted,” she said.

Besides death treats and crank calls, Bryant’s alleged victim has also been targeted by subpoenas. Among other things, Bryant’s attorneys are looking for her medical records, hoping to cast doubt on her emotional stability.

The alleged victim suffered two overdoses in a four-month period earlier this year, one in late February at the University of Northern Colorado where she was a student and another at her home in Eagle County.

What happened

According to sources close to the investigation, Bryant, two body guards and an off-duty Los Angeles police officer checked into the Lodge and Spa at Cordillera just after 10 p.m., June 30. While he was being escorted to his room by the same woman who would later accuse him of raping her, he asked her to give him a tour. She later showed him around the hotel and spa, and showed him back to his room, where the incident occurred. She says she was raped, but Bryant says it was consensual sex. A jury will eventually hear the case and decide.

On July 18, the day he was charged with forcible rape, Bryant sat before the media at the Staples Center in Los Angeles and told reporters that he had made the mistake of adultery, but had committed no crime. Earlier that day, District Attorney Mark Hurlbert told a national television audience that he felt he had enough evidence for a conviction. He said his ethical responsibility would prohibit him from filing charges if he didn’t.

The day Bryant’s arrest became public, Mackey dismissed the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office investigation as “biased.”

“I have so much to live for,” Bryant said in a written statement the day he was charged. “And by that I do not mean the contracts, or the money, or the fame. I mean my family. I will fight for them. I appreciate all those who have supported me. Thank you for believing in me. My family and I are going to need your support and prayers now more than ever.”

In the days surrounding the incident, Bryant and his wife appeared at a couple of awards shows. On Aug. 7, the day after his first, brief court appearance in Eagle, he went to Disneyland for a well-choreographed appearance. The public had little, if any, contact with him at any of those appearances.

Reporters covering Lakers training camp in Honolulu said he had five bodyguards at all times. His alleged victim, who has received at least two death threats, has no security.

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