Bryant defense says it has 'compelling evidence' of innocence

Posted: Thursday, October 16, 2003

EAGLE, Colo. Kobe Bryant's accuser showed up for her rape exam wearing panties containing another man's sperm, a startling discovery that defense lawyers called ''compelling evidence'' the NBA star is innocent.

But Bryant's preliminary hearing ended Wednesday with prosecutors telling a judge there was ''uncontradicted'' evidence that the Los Angeles Lakers' guard raped the 19-year-old woman at a mountain resort.

''He held her by the back of the neck with his hand during sexual intercourse,'' prosecutor Greg Crittenden said. ''He lifted up her skirt. She said 'no.' He pulled down her underpants and she said 'no.' He penetrated her from behind and she cried.''

Judge Frederick Gannett said he hoped to rule by Monday whether Bryant will have to stand trial on a sexual assault charge that could send him to prison for life.

Gannett only has to find there is probable cause to believe Bryant raped the woman, something defense attorney Pamela Mackey told the judge prosecutors failed to prove because the woman told her story through a sheriff's detective.

''She is not worthy of your belief,'' Mackey said.

Eagle County District Attorney Mark Hurlbert said, however, he was confident the judge would send the case to trial.

''No prosecutor puts on their whole case at preliminary hearing,'' he said. ''In this case you saw kind of a sanitized version.''

If the two-day preliminary hearing wasn't the entire prosecution case, it still contained graphic details about an encounter that began with the woman excited to meet the basketball superstar, escalated into consensual kissing and hugging, and ended with sex across the back of a chair.

Prosecutors tried to portray Bryant as an arrogant athlete who held the woman down and raped her, concerned only that she might talk about the encounter.

When it was the defense's turn to question the lead detective in the case, Mackey tried to poke holes in the woman's story, raise doubts about whether she told Bryant ''no'' and show she had sex with someone else two days before the alleged assault June 30.

''This is an extremely thin case based mostly on hearsay,'' Mackey said.

She wasted no time getting Detective Doug Winters to say that the yellow underwear the woman wore to her rape exam at a hospital the next day contained sperm from another man, along with Caucasian pubic hair.

The 25-year-old Bryant, who is black, contends he had consensual sex with the woman.

Winters said the woman told him she had consensual sex with another man on June 28 and used a condom, backing earlier defense suggestions she was sexually active before her encounter with Bryant.

Winters also said two pairs of panties from the woman were tested one from the night of June 30, the other the pair she wore to a hospital for an exam the next day.

The latter pair contained blood and semen, Winters said.

''The accuser arrived at the hospital wearing panties with someone else's semen and sperm in them, not that of Mr. Bryant, correct?'' Mackey asked.

''That's correct,'' Winters responded.

Mackey suggested injuries found during the woman's exam could have come from having repeated sex, a contention she first made in court last week.

The defense contends the tests on the underwear provide Bryant with ''compelling evidence of innocence.''

Stan Goldman, a professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, said the argument might be more of a public relations move.

''The defense may be spinning this more for the public than the court,'' he said. ''It's impressive, but its negative public relations value for the prosecution is more significant than its legal value.''

Bryant sat stoically with his hands folded watching his attorney tear apart the prosecution's version of the case. Occasionally, he leaned over and talked to his other lawyer, Hal Haddon.

Mackey also managed to introduce something prosecutors didn't talk about last week a statement by the night auditor at the hotel who was the first person the accuser saw when she left Bryant's room.

The night auditor sent police a letter saying she saw the woman as she came back to the front desk at the Cordillera Lodge & Spa.

''What the night auditor says in her letter is the accuser did not look or sound as if there had been any problem,'' Mackey said.

''Correct?'' she asked Winters.

''Yes,'' he responded.

Winters also acknowledged the woman didn't tell him she told Bryant ''no'' when he interviewed her the day after the alleged rape.

''I asked the accuser why she never told Mr. Bryant 'no,''' Winters wrote in his report.

Last week, however, Winters testified the woman told him she told Bryant ''no'' repeatedly, and that Bryant even forced her to turn around and face him and say it at one point.

It was not clear if that came from a later interview with the woman.

Some of the testimony mostly concerning statements Bryant gave police was given behind closed doors because the issue of whether they are admissible has yet to be decided. That led to some courtroom exchanges that didn't always make sense to the public and media who crowded the small courtroom.

''What you get to see in connection with the open hearing may appear to be slightly schizophrenic,'' Gannett warned.

Some legal experts said the evidence of the woman's previous sexual partners and her admission she was excited to meet Bryant makes the prosecution's case appear weak.

Eagle attorney Jim Fahrenholtz called the hearing ''a disaster for the prosecution.''

Most, though, said they expected the judge to order a trial for Bryant, which would probably not take place until next summer, at the earliest.

''It will be pretty hard for this judge to say you don't have enough non-hearsay evidence,'' former Denver prosecutor Craig Silverman said.



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