Kobe trial is over: Alleged victim calls it off
the associated press
EAGLE ” The Kobe Bryant case abruptly collapsed Wednesday as prosecutors dropped the sexual assault charge against the NBA star, saying the alleged victim no longer wanted to participate after a series of embarrassing courthouse gaffes.
“This decision is not based upon a lack of belief in the victim ” she is an extremely credible and an extremely brave young woman,” District Attorney Mark Hurlbert said outside the courthouse. “Our belief in her has not wavered over the past year. … Ultimately, we respect her decision 100 percent.”
In a statement from his attorney, Bryant apologized for his “behavior that night and for the consequences she has suffered in the past year.”
“Although I truly believe this encounter between us was consensual, I recognize now that she did not and does not view this incident the same way I did,” said Bryant, a married father of one who did not attend the courtroom session.
Bryant still faces a civil lawsuit filed by the 20-year-old accuser that seeks unspecified damages. Bryant said he understood that, but was glad the criminal case would no longer be a financial or emotional drain on the Colorado public.
“I also want to make it clear that I do not question the motives of this young woman,” Bryant said. “No money has been paid to this woman. She has agreed that this statement will not be used against me in the civil case.”
The dismissal marks a stunning turn in the high-profile case against one the NBA’s brightest young stars whose image has been tarnished by the sordid allegations. For months, prosecutors insisted they had a strong enough case to win a conviction beyond a reasonable doubt as Bryant lost endorsements and his accuser endured death threats her mother said left her terrified.
Instead, prosecutors dropped the case after spending at least $200,000 to prepare for trial, and just days before opening statements were scheduled to begin next Tuesday.
Hurlbert said the alleged victim did not want to participate in the trial, including taking the stand. Her attorney, John Clune, said she has been through an extremely difficult time over the past 14 months and was disturbed by the mistakes that included the release of her name on a state courts Web site and her medical history to attorneys in the case.
“The difficulties that this case has imposed on this woman the past year are unimaginable,” Clune said.
With the parents of the woman looking on, District Judge Terry Ruckriegle threw out the case under a deal that means charges will not be refiled. He said he took full responsibility for the gaffes, but also blamed Colorado lawmakers for slashing the budgets of the judicial system.
“Three years ago, when the Legislature chose to cut the budget, we advised them that less staff and more work was bound to result in mistakes,” the judge said. “We had no idea these mistakes would be under such a microscope.”
Whatever the woman’s decision, legal experts said a series of court rulings had also hurt the prosecution’s case, including a decision allowing her sex life in the days surrounding her encounter with Bryant to be admitted as evidence. This was expected to bolster the defense contention that she slept with someone after leaving Bryant and before she went to a hospital exam ” a potentially key blow to her credibility.
“You can’t make a case when there is no case,” said attorney Lisa Wayne, who has defended clients in numerous sexual assault cases. “The prosecution has to take responsibility.”
The pending civil case would also allow defense attorneys to argue the woman had a financial motive to accuse Bryant of assault. Bryant’s defense team has long argued she falsely accused him to gain the attention of a former boyfriend, and that she was given nearly $20,000 from a victims’ compensation fund.
Bryant, 26, has tearfully admitted he had consensual sex with the then-19-year-old employee of a Vail-area resort where he stayed last summer. If convicted, the Los Angeles Lakers star would have faced four years to life in prison or 20 years to life on probation, and a fine up to $750,000.
Defense attorneys had asked the judge to dismiss the assault charge, saying prosecutors had refused to turn over details that could suggest he is innocent. Court rules require prosecutors and defense attorneys to exchange evidence and witness opinions before trial, a process called discovery.
In a motion made public earlier Wednesday, defense attorneys said a forensics expert whom prosecutors had planned to call as a witness had information that “undermined the accuser’s allegations and the prosecution’s case, and corroborated Mr. Bryant’s defense on a central issue ” the cause and significance of the accuser’s alleged injuries.”
“A person’s life and liberty are at stake,” the defense attorneys wrote. “The game of hide-the-ball, find-it-if-you-can discovery is intolerable.”
As for the civil case, an attorney for the woman, L. Lin Wood, said that case was still pending. “There has been no settlement of the civil lawsuit and there have been no discussions concerning a settlement,” he said.
Larry Pozner, a former president of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, said he did not think Bryant’s statement suggested an interest in settling the civil lawsuit.
“I would have guessed today would have been a global settlement (covering both cases),” he said. “If it isn’t, it’s because the defense has told them, ‘We aren’t paying you very much, and if you want to continue, bring it on.”‘
Like the criminal case, the lawsuit accuses Bryant of attacking the woman in his room at the Cordillera resort near Edwards, causing her emotional and physical problems that linger to this day.
The attorneys accused Bryant of flirting with the woman, a front desk employee, during a tour of the resort. After the two ended up in his room, they began to kiss. Investigators have said the encounter turned violent after flirting by both Bryant and his accuser, and that she told Bryant “no” at least twice.
In the civil suit, the attorneys said at some point during the kissing “Bryant’s voice became deeper and his acts became rougher” as he began to grope the woman. She asked him to stop, but Bryant allegedly blocked her exit, grabbed her and forced her over a chair to rape her.
Bryant’s hands were around the woman’s neck, the attorneys said ” “a perceived threat of potential strangulation if she resisted his advances.”
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