Young DA no stranger to spotlight
Mark Hurlbert smiles at television camera after television camera, microphone after microphone, notebook after notebook.
They’re reporters doing their job, he understands, and he says he’s doing fine with all the attention.
Suddenly the lights go on – he’s getting good at not squinting and being on television – looks into the camera like it’s his long-lost friend, or at the reporter like they’re at a class reunion, and answers the same questions:
“What did you know and when did you know it?”
“What did you do and why did you do it?”
In a busy summer for major news stories, he’s at the center of the biggest media storm of all. Kobe Bryant, the squeaky-clean golden child of the NBA, is charged with Class 3 felony sexual assault for allegedly assaulting a 19-year-old Eagle woman.
If convicted, Bryant faces a minimum of 20 years probation, and a maximum of life in prison.
Besides the television cameras and reporters, Hurlbert faces an opposition with millions of dollars to throw at the case, and the combined marketing forces of hundreds of people who make a good living from Kobe Bryant The Industry.
“We’re doing fine,” he said when asked how he was holding up. “We’re ready to get on with the next phase.”
Hurlbert’s making the rounds, building his case for both the court of law and the court of public opinion. For the next several days, he’ll be on television more than a test pattern.
He charms; he disarms. Questions about the evidence or the investigation are met with a slight nod of the head and a smiling, “I can’t comment on that.” Those questions come by the thousands. He never slips. Every question is a new opportunity to make a mistake. He understands this.
Making the case
Hurlbert’s investigators collected that evidence. He examined it thoroughly and conferred with prosecutors all over the state, gathering opinions and advice from people he respected.
He knew, though, that the decision was his alone.
He came to that decision Thursday morning, he said. He gave the alleged victim and her family a day’s advance notice, as he had promised. Then on Friday, he once again stepped into the spotlight and told the world that he has enough evidence to convict Bryant, beyond a reasonable doubt, of what used to be called forcible rape. To make that case, there had to be sexual contact – penetration – and there had to violence or the threat of violence. Hurlbert won’t comment on the evidence. But he does nod, smile and say, “It appears I can prove my case beyond a reasonable doubt.”
He said there is no smoking gun, no single bit of evidence that tipped the scales of justice toward felony charges against Bryant. In weighing evidence, the sum is greater than its individual parts.
“It’s the totality of the case, not one piece of evidence in particular,” Hurlbert said. “Ninety percent of sexual assault cases are like that.”
In between dealing with the media crush, the endless series of pretrial motions and conferences, he must try the Cathy Dennison murder case in September.
It’s not the first time Hurlbert has had the chance to check his hair for national television. In March, a skier death case put Hurlbert in front of the microphone and under the glare.
Following a collision at Breckenridge Ski Resort that killed a 56-year-old man from Illinois, Hurlbert had to decide whether to file charges against the other man in the crash, Englishman Robert Wills. The case attracted a flurry of international attention. Reporters from the British Broadcasting Corporation, several London newspapers and periodicals from throughout the United States inquired about details of the accident and a possible court case, forcing Summit County authorities to change messages on voice-mail systems to deal with increased calls. The New York Times carried the story of Wills’ arrest.
Hurlbert concluded there was not enough evidence to indicate Wills was negligent or out of control, so he dropped the case. The family of the victim filed a civil suit the day Hurlbert announced his decision.
For Hurlbert, a hometown hero of sorts who graduated from Summit High School and attended law school in Colorado, the media attention is a side of the job he hadn’t planned on.
“This wasn’t what I was thinking about in law school,” he said. “The (public relations) side of the job was unexpected. Dealing with the local press became something I realized was a part of the job. Dealing with the national press, that’s something else.”
Mark Hurlbert was appointed district attorney for the 5th Judicial Distict in December 2002. He is the chief prosecutor for the counties of Eagle, Summit, Clear Creek and Lake.
Hurlbert has lived in Summit County since 1979, and is a graduate of Summit High School. He received his bachelor of arts degree from Dartmouth College and his juris doctorate from the University of Colorado.
He has worked in the District Attorney’s Office since 1993, when he began his service as an intern under then-District Attorney Pete Michaelson. In 1994, he was appointed deputy district attorney and has also held the positions of chief deputy district attorney and assistant district attorney. He served as the lead prosecutor for all felonies in Summit County and successfully prosecuted the murder case against Charles Garrison, whose wife’s body was found buried at Garrison’s home.
As district attorney, Hurlbert personally tries all first-degree murder cases and most second-degree murder cases in the district.
Hurlbert serves on several non-profit boards that focus on victim and child advocacy. He lives in Breckenridge with his wife, Cathy, and their two children.
Summit Daily News reporter Reid Williams contributed to this report.