Bryant makes brief court appearance

Posted: Thursday, August 07, 2003

EAGLE, Colo. NBA superstar Kobe Bryant made his first court appearance on a sexual assault charge Wednesday, uttering just two words during a seven-minute hearing that created a media frenzy in this quiet mountain town.

Attorneys for the 24-year-old Bryant waived his right to be formally advised of the felony assault charge, sparing the Los Angeles Lakers guard even more time in the cinderblock courtroom that was jammed with reporters.

Eagle County Judge Frederick Gannett set an Oct. 9 preliminary hearing to determine whether the case will go to trial. The hearing would be one day after a Lakers' preseason game and about three weeks before the start of the regular season.

Bryant spoke only once during the hearing, answering ''No, sir'' when the judge asked if he objected to giving up his right to have the preliminary hearing held within 30 days.

Bryant left the courthouse immediately and was expected to return to California by private jet.

Bryant has said he had consensual sex with the 19-year-old hotel clerk June 30 but is innocent of assault.

If convicted, Bryant faces four years to life in prison or 20 years to life on probation, and a fine of up to $750,000. He is free on $25,000 bond.

The case has been the subject of widespread speculation about Bryant's accuser, a college student who worked at the front desk of the Lodge & Spa at Cordillera in nearby Edwards. Bryant was in Colorado to have knee surgery in nearby Vail.

Gannett, who has already issued a gag order in the case and rejected media requests to release court records, said he has appointed the Pitkin County sheriff's office to investigate leaks to the media.

''This is just another effort by me to remind the parties to the case to be careful,'' he said.

The hearing was held amid a media circus that included hundreds of reporters and photographers who swamped the courthouse grounds before a hearing that was carried live on national cable networks. Even the jury box was filled with curious courthouse employees.

Bryant was driven to the Eagle County courthouse in a sport-utility vehicle. There were scattered cheers and a shout of ''Kobe is innocent!'' from the crowd after he arrived.

Bryant and defense attorney Pamela Mackey both went through a metal detector before they entered the courtroom.

Outside the courthouse, a small city of television satellite trucks was set up next to a dozen or so platforms for live television shots precisely the type of coverage Bryant was hoping to avoid when his attorneys asked Gannett to allow the Lakers star to skip the procedural hearing.

The judge denied the request, setting the stage for the circus-like event.

At times, preparation for Bryant's arrival looked more like something for a head of state. A media tent was erected outside the courthouse, authorities brought out the county's only metal detector, and sheriff's deputies were called in on overtime to keep order.

Along with the journalists came Bryant's fans people like Eric Tison, 30, who drove three hours from Castle Rock, south of Denver.

''I hope he's innocent. I'm here to support him as a basketball player,'' said Tison, wearing a Los Angeles Lakers No. 8 jersey and hoping for an autograph. ''What goes on in his personal life now is taking away from the game.''

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